Oxford Students for Life

Promoting a culture of life in the University and beyond

Pro-Life and Conservative

Another article in our series “Pro-Life and Political”, in which several writers will explain how their different political opinions shape their pro-life views.

I have always been cautious about giving political allegiances or parties the same weight as moral issues: my moral beliefs come before my political stances. Nevertheless, morality is a political issue. The rightness or wrongness of particular actions occurs within society, and so our actions are necessarily both moral and political. If we value our morality at all, it will guide and impact upon the political sides of our lives. Being pro-life is not a party political issue, and does not even belong on any particular part of the traditional left-right political spectrum. But my ‘small-c’ political conservatism informs, and is informed by, my pro-life stance.

Conservatives generally want people to have a chance in life, what the Australians might call a “fair go”. This is the basis of why most conservatives have an instinctive liking for the market: everyone has a chance to succeed; the best ideas, if things work properly, will produce the best results. There is no “fair go” for the little ones aborted before they are born. The ‘terminated’ are never given a chance in life. They’re not even given a chance to breathe. It can sound silly, but how many great economists, great academics, great businesspeople, great sportspeople have been killed in abortion clinics? They haven’t been given their chance, which violates so many conservative principles.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that, “everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of the person,” in Article 3. It also says, “Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.” These are the ground rules that govern conservative rhetoric, which emphasises liberty and security for all. It seems obvious to me that this extends to the person inside the womb. What are the pre-born if not human? They have their human DNA in its completeness, they are growing, and their dependence on their mother should make us more, not less, compassionate towards them. The unborn child is a ‘person’, as even Hillary Clinton admitted recently, and so has the right to life, liberty, and security as all other persons.

The fight for every person to be equal before the law is a conservative fight: conservatism rails against the disregard for the individual, against the overwhelming power of the state, against the morphing of the individual into one greater collective. The individual person is the most important thing to a conservative; working together with other people, self-sacrificing for others, and fundamentally being recognised as an individual with their own – not just collective – inalienable rights. We must be liberal in giving these rights, and acknowledge that even an individual person whom we cannot see directly (though we can interact with them) has these rights.

Women, sadly, have many pressures to kill their children in the womb. Conservative values instinctively fight for measures to prevent these pressures: building strong family bonds; creating a strong society based on the family rather than the overarching state; creating local support structures; reducing dependence on the state (the same state that will give them an abortion if they ask for it). The conservative looks to the local community, guided by minimal but strong laws, to create environments where motherhood is valued. Creating multiple local environments, where life is respected and valued, requires strong community bonds based on positive ideals rather than state-imposed edicts or class war. Conservatives naturally gravitate towards this ideal.

End of life care is a major pro-life issue that I feel is often overtaken in favour of abortion, but both have conservative aspects. End of life care is where the battle really is: this is where the culture of death is attacking now, and we must be ready to fight it. On this front, too, my small-c conservatism calls for a pro-life attitude: respect the individual, care for them, acknowledge their rights. Even if we talk dispassionately about market forces, where else do we find such a repository of wisdom than the elderly? Where else are caring skills able to flourish more than caring for the sick and the old? These people, with their innate value (as well as their opportunities and mines of valuable thoughts), cannot just be extinguished in the name of ‘progress’ in our throw-away society.

I was asked to write a short article about being pro-life and conservative. I hope this has explained something of how having conservative values and being pro-life go hand in glove. But I know – and am glad – that people from many different political persuasions are pro-life. Ultimately, I am pro-life because I believe in the inherent value of all human life from conception to natural death. That requires engagement in politics, but goes beyond political allegiance.

John Coverdale took his Ecclesiastical History degree at the University of Oxford in 2013, having studied at Campion Hall. He currently works in the heritage sector.


Pro-Life and Labour

Another article in our series “Pro-Life and Political”, in which several writers will explain how their different political opinions shape their pro-life views.

These days, it is becoming increasingly rare to be pro-life and a Labour Party activist. This is surprising given the commitment to human rights, which lies at the heart of socialism and its concern for the most vulnerable in society, together with its opposition to the death penalty. In his Maiden Speech in the House of Commons, during the Abortion (Amendment) Bill 1979, Dale Campbell Savours MP cited Aneurin Bevan’s ‘In Place of Fear’: The capacity for emotional concern for individual life is the most significant quality of a civilized human society’ .

Although the Labour Party has no plans to change abortion law, it is still expected that people who wish to progress in the Labour Party are pro-choice. Indeed, the Labour Party group set up to encourage women to stand as parliamentary candidates, Emily’s List, stipulates that women who put themselves forward support a woman’s right to choose.

Over recent years, abortion amendments have focused on time limits, but it’s important that abortion is seen in a much broader context, where women make decisions based on their housing , employment rights, and healthcare.

It is a great shame that so many in the Labour Party too readily dismiss the pro-life cause, since there is enormous potential to make common cause on a wide range of issues, which would benefit women faced with an unplanned pregnancy.

Labour has long campaigned for more affordable housing. One commitment that could be made would be to give women in poverty, faced with an unplanned pregnancy, a high priority for housing. This would certainly be a controversial move, given the belief of some – though unsupported by evidence – that some women only get pregnant to get a Council flat. It is also vital to provide supported housing for young women who might struggle to look after a child on their own.

Maternity rights, maternity pay and the right of women to return to work after having a baby have gradually improved since the 1990s, thanks to the Employment Relations Act which Labour introduced in 1999, and pressure from the EU. Pay and benefits for working mothers means that women no longer have to fear the loss of their livelihood when they have a baby. Children’s Centres were another ambitious but highly successful Labour Party initiative during the first two Labour terms in government after 1997. These were built on the belief that support in the early years of a child’s life are the most important for improving every child’s life chances.

Under Labour, Child Benefit rose significantly. Sadly it is now being cut back by the Conservative Government and limited to the first two children in a family. For many families on a tight budget and high housing costs, the pressure of an unplanned third pregnancy might tempt some couples to consider an abortion. The number of larger families is actually not very high in the UK. Financial support is important for all children, regardless of where they come in the family.

Insecurity of employment and housing bedevil British society today and place enormous pressure on relationships. Campaigning for more affordable and secure housing and for employment rights are both essential for helping families stay together as well as being longstanding planks of Labour Party policy. Women (and it is almost always women) who are left without either the emotional of financial support of their child’s father face a double blow. Not only are they reliant on a single income, often part-time, they are also unable to find suitable housing in many parts of the country since two incomes are needed to pay the rent. My own experience as a city councillor in Oxford has shown me that poor women, who are left to bring up children on their own, are the people who suffer most from cuts in benefits and public services.

The Labour Party has an excellent record in providing support for pregnant women and those with children. It can and should work together with its pro-life members to create a society where support for women with unplanned pregnancies is so good that abortion would very rarely ever be the choice a woman would want to make.

Mary Clarkson has been a Labour City Councillor in Oxford for the past 18 years and is a former student at the University of Oxford, having read English at St John’s.

Understanding an Alliance: Part 3

White House


IV. From the Jaws of Victory

The pro-life cause won a significant victory in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989). The court was answering the question about how comprehensive Roe v. Wade’s ban on abortion legislation was. Since the 1980s, in tension with Roe, some states had been limiting the use of government funds, facilities, and employees to perform or assist with abortions. Webster allowed for states to legislate in this area, effectively allowing states to restrict abortion. But it did not seek to address the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade. For Scalia, the decision did not go far enough: he wrote an independent concurrence admonishing the court for not handling that issue outright, arguing it would only arise again.

He was right. In 1992 came Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The case involved a challenge to several different restrictions the state of Pennsylvania had placed on abortion: a twenty-four hour waiting period, provision of information about alternatives to abortion, and requiring a married woman seeking an abortion to notify her husband. Only two judges, Blackmun and Stevens, wanted to strike these restrictions down entirely, showing how far the court had improved since 1973. Rehnquist and White, the two dissenters in Roe v. Wade, wanted to uphold the restrictions, as did Scalia and Thomas. They were ready to overturn Roe v. Wade, leaving states free to regulate or ban abortion as they saw fit. This left O’Connor, Souter, and Kennedy. There was a great hope that all three would vote down Roe v Wade—O’Connor had famously said that the reasoning behind Roe was “on a collision course with itself.” The pro-life cause seemed on the verge of a triumph.

Despite these hopes, O’Connor, Souter, and Kennedy developed a different position. Roe would stand. But the three set aside the actual argument of Roe. Instead, they invoked the doctrine of stare decisis—the policy of adhering to judicial precedent—and argued that it compelled them to affirm Roe, whether or not the actual argument of Roe was mistaken. It was a curious argument, as many times in the history of the court, previous decisions that had been deemed incorrect were overruled.

The majority further argued that in light of the political controversy surrounding Roe v Wade, if the court were to “overrule under fire” it would damage “the people’s acceptance” of the “Court’s legitimacy.” The majority decided that abortion could be regulated as long as regulations did not place an “undue burden” on a woman seeking an abortion. In practice, states could not prohibit early-term abortions. In the end, the majority seemed most concerned with forming a political compromise that could resolve the abortion issue once and for all.

Scalia, for his part, mocked this line of reasoning. Comparing Casey to the Dred Scott decision that tried to resolve the slavery debate by finding a constitutional right to slavery, he wrote:

It is no more realistic for us in this case…to think that an issue of the sort they both involved–an issue involving life and death, freedom and subjugation–can be “speedily and finally settled” by the Supreme Court, as President James Buchanan in his inaugural address said the issue of slavery in the territories would be.

The pro-life cause came within a hair’s breath of victory in 1992, but there was no breakthrough. Moreover, 1992 saw the election of the first President dedicated to keeping abortion legal: Bill Clinton. By then, the Democratic party had already defined itself as a pro-choice party. The 1992 Democratic Convention denied the Governor of Pennsylvania, Robert P. Casey—the same Casey who was the defendant in Planned Parenthood v. Casey—the chance to speak at the Convention.

As President, Clinton wanted to choose pro-abortion Supreme Court judges. This consideration was therefore a top priority for his selection team. The 1993 hunt for a replacement for White led to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but her appointment hit a stumbling block when the vetting committee found she had criticized Roe v. Wade. When it was revealed that she still supported a right to abortion, just on different theoretical grounds, they were relieved and went ahead with her appointment.


V. Casey’s Silver Lining

At the present moment, the result of the campaign to change the court has reached a drawn-out stalemate. Two camps are firmly entrenched, with one or two “swing voters.” George W. Bush and Barack Obama each chose two judges to the Supreme Court, filling vacancies for the both conservative and liberal camps. Since 1992, the court has only ruled twice on abortion, dealing with bans on partial-birth abortion. In Stenberg v. Carhart (2000), a narrow majority (5-4) struck down the ban as violating Roe v. Wade, but in Gonzales v. Carhart (2007) another narrow majority (5-4) upheld a different federal law banning partial-birth abortion.

Nevertheless, Casey was not a total defeat. O’Connor, Souter, and Kennedy were sympathetic to conservative jurisprudence: the Supreme Court’s authority had limits. Hence, they only struck down the regulation on abortion that required spousal notification. Casey, therefore, left a considerable gap for states to regulate abortion, provided laws did not place an “undue burden” on the woman seeking an abortion. The pro-life movement has poured into the breach, advancing in state legislatures the pro-life legislation that was undone in 1973. They have made tremendous gains since 1992:

  • The number of states with parental involvement laws has increased from 20 to 38.
  • The number of states with informed consent laws has increased from 18 to 33.
  • The number of states with abortion clinic regulations increased from 21 to 30.
  • 21 States have provisions to give women information about the availability of ultrasound services prior to abortion. Six of these states require an ultrasound for each abortion require the abortion provider to offer the opportunity to view the image.

These laws, as well as public funding restrictions, parental involvement laws, and properly designed informed consent laws all have helped reduce US abortion rates to a level not seen since the court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973.

But these gains are fragile. They are contingent on the composition of the Supreme Court. The American pro-life movement is acutely aware that, with a single decision from the Supreme Court, all these gains can vanish overnight—as they did in 1973. And another such decision may be drawing near.

In 2013, Texas passed a law that requires physicians performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, and sets the health and safety standards for abortion clinics at the same level as those for an ambulatory surgical center. Because most abortion clinics do not meet these standards, it is possible that 34 out of 40 abortion clinics in Texas may close. Defenders of abortion have challenged this law in court, and it has now made its way to the very top of the judicial system. On March 2nd 2016, the Supreme Court began hearing arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. Bearing in mind the “undue burden” standard of Planned Parenthood v Casey, the court will consider to what extent laws that regulate abortion for the stated purpose of promoting health place an “undue burden” on the woman seeking an abortion. This is the first time the Supreme Court has heard a case concerning abortion in a decade. Moreover, with the passing of Antonin Scalia, it is at a moment the balance of the court may tilt decisively against the pro-life cause. Much depends on who is elected in November.


At the end of his 2008 letter, John Haldane wrote that, “existing political alignments offer no easy home” for pro-lifers. He is indeed correct: one should never declare that the victory of one political party is a victory for the pro-life movement. Republican Presidents have a mixed record of appointing judges to the Supreme Court have resisted a supposed constitutional right to abortion—since 1980, only four out of seven have done so decisively. But Democratic Presidents have a perfect record. They have always picked pro-abortion candidates.

It is thanks to Republican Presidents that the present gains have been made. But they are not permanent. When the Supreme Court has lost its most vocal critic of a constitutional right to abortion, and the Republican Party may very well nominate a pro-abortion candidate for President, pro-lifers may look nostalgically back on the days when at least one political party gave them and their cause a fair hearing, and a chance to change the composition of the Supreme Court. The battle to overturn Roe v. Wade will continue—but friendly politicians and judges may grow fewer.


Nathan Pinkoski is a DPhil candidate in Political Philosophy at the University of Oxford



Understanding an Alliance: Part 2

White House

II. The Plan to Overturn Roe v. Wade

In the wake of Roe v. Wade, pro-lifers needed a new strategy. First, the pro-life movement tried to pass a human life amendment to the US Constitution, which would have protected human life from conception until natural death. Over the next decade, the multiple attempts to propose this amendment in Congress failed to reach formal debate. This strategy achieved little, so pro-lifers changed their tack, deciding to strike at the heart of the problem. The new goal was to overturn Roe v. Wade directly. The means would be to change the composition of the Supreme Court. After all, to overturn Roe, all one needed was five out of nine judges.

This aligned with the plans of conservatives. Frustrated by judicial activism that only advanced liberal policies, conservatives were searching for more restrained judges to appoint to the court. Their most powerful intellectual allies were constitutional originalists. Both originalists and pro-lifers began to focus on changing the composition of the Supreme Court. But they faced a difficult battle. A 7-2 majority had decided Roe v. Wade. To overturn it, at least three judges needed to be replaced.

By adopting this strategy, pro-lifers knew they were setting themselves up for a long, inter-generational struggle, for three reasons. First, Supreme Court appointments are for life. To change the composition of the court, one has to wait for judges to retire or die. Consequently, few Presidents ever get to choose more than one or two judges—and they would have to be the right judges. But that raises the second issue: one needs a President sympathetic to the pro-life cause. So to change the court, one would need the right President as well as an opportune vacancy. Third, the US Senate must confirm the President’s appointments to the Supreme Court by a simple majority. If no majority is reached, the President has to appoint someone different. So the Senate would have to be favourable to the President’s choice as well. These three forces could hardly align more than once or twice a decade. It was therefore, a strategy that depended on finding good judges, supporting good politicians, and good luck.


III. The Battle for the Supreme Court

In 1980, the conservatives gained the upper hand. They entered the White House with Ronald Reagan, who commanded an energetic and strongly conservative administration. But pro-lifers and originalists had yet to make their case for changing the composition of the court. In 1981, when a vacancy opened up, Ronald Reagan made his first pick for the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor. Reagan was focused on fulfilling a campaign promise to nominate a woman to the court, and was less concerned about scrutinizing O’Connor on conservative jurisprudence or on abortion. She was considered generally conservative and aspiring for a more restrained, less activist Supreme Court, but was ambiguous on the subject of abortion. Pro-lifers were somewhat disappointed, but hopeful that she would be on their side.

In 1986, Reagan had another chance. Warren Burger, who had voted for Roe v. Wade, resigned as chief justice. This time, the originalist and pro-life alliance had picked up political influence. It had a strong advocate within the White House, in the person of Attorney General Edwin Meese. Meese advised Reagan to move William Rehnquist, who had written a forceful dissent to Roe v. Wade, to Chief Justice, leaving a vacancy for associate justice. To replace him, Meese suggested Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia, the most prominent originalist judges in the country. Reagan chose Scalia. The Democrats in the Senate decided to fight the decision to move Rehnquist, but they lost 65-33. Having tried to stop Rehnquist and failed, the Democrats had no political capital to thwart Scalia, and his appointment was confirmed unanimously.

In 1987, another seat opened up. This time, Reagan decided to choose Robert Bork. But liberals were gathering a fight. They were anxious that with Bork on the court, their liberal majority would be decisively weakened. They decided to block him. In fact, “block” is something of an understatement. A more appropriate term is “carpet-bomb.” Through an impressive national mobilization, the “Block Bork” campaign set out to destroy Bork and his reputation.

On July 1st Reagan announced Bork as his nominee. Forty-five minutes later, Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy took the floor, declaiming:

‘Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens…’

It was blatant slander—not a single line was an accurate representation of Bork’s judicial philosophy. But as a way to organize opposition, it worked. Senators swore to filibuster the appointment if Bork did not accept Roe v. Wade as law. Labour unions, women’s groups, bar associations, civil liberty groups, many of which had hitherto kept themselves neutral over court nominations, spoke out against Bork. Across the country, public protests were organized. On the first day of the Senate’s hearing, Gregory Peck narrated a nation-wide television advertisement against Bork. Bork was defeated handily in the Senate, 58-42. So ferocious, yet so successful, was the savaging of Bork’s reputation that a neologism emerged, “to Bork,” now featured in the OED:

To defame or vilify (a person) systematically, esp. in the mass media, usually with the aim of preventing his or her appointment to public office; to obstruct or thwart (a person) in this way.

Reagan and Meese were infuriated by the whole affair, but they knew they were beaten. The White House at the time was reeling from the Iran-Contra scandal, and it was deemed expedient to pick a moderate conservative who would be confirmed. They picked Anthony M. Kennedy. He was asked whether he supported a constitutional right to privacy—in light of Roe, code for “a right to abortion.” He did. The Senate confirmed him without incident.

Following Reagan as President, George H.W. Bush had the opportunity to appoint to replace two justices who supported Roe v. Wade with two who did not. He chose David Souter and Clarence Thomas. In the first case, Bush opted for an uncontroversial pick—Souter’s record on contentious topics was vague. In the second case, Bush opted for a well-known conservative. It provoked a vicious nomination battle, but the Senate confirmed him 52-48. With five justices appointed between them, Reagan and Bush had succeeded in changing the composition of the court and appointing a majority. But would this majority take down Roe v. Wade?


Nathan Pinkoski is a DPhil candidate in Political Philosophy at the University of Oxford

Understanding an Alliance: the Pro-Life Movement and Conservatism in America

White House

OSFL represented outside the Supreme Court during the March for Life in Washington, D.C.


This article is the first of three instalments in a history of the American pro-life movement and its alliance with American conservatism.

What does being pro-life have to with political conservatism? In the United States, it matters a great deal. But outside of the United States, pro-lifers remain suspicious of the American alliance between political conservatism and the pro-life movement. Non-Americans argue that the pro-life movement has gained little from supporting political conservatives (usually from the Republican Party) who are against abortion. In 2008, just after the US election, the Scottish pro-life philosopher John Haldane delivered an eloquent version of this argument, published as an open letter to American pro-lifers. He offered a bit of “friendly advice”: do not ally the pro-life cause too closely with the Republican party. Haldane’s letter remains insightful eight years later, as the Republican party has degenerated into civil war in the face of this year’s presidential election.

Yet the unexpected passing of the United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, considered one of the most politically conservative judges on the court, offers the chance to examine the legacy of the alliance between conservatism and the pro-life movement in America in a different light. Contrary to casual portrayals, it is not an alliance between the pro-life movement and the Republican party per se. Rather, it is an alliance between the pro-life movement and a school of constitutional jurisprudence, “originalism.” Republican Presidents sympathetic to both the pro-life movement and originalism have made a more pro-life jurisprudence possible. As Scalia was both the court’s most vocal proponent of constitutional originalism, and also an unceasing critic of a constitutional right to abortion, his career as Supreme Court Justice personified this alliance. And the alliance between originalism and the pro-life cause, while not a total victory, still deserves to be recognised as a success for the American pro-life movement.


  1. The Rise of Judicial Activism

The basic reason for the alliance between the pro-life movement and originalism concerns the character of American law. What is the supreme law in the United States? The answer is the US Constitution. It is a single, written document with authority over all other laws and customs. It limits the actions of all government officials, and sets forth the rights and liberties of the people. As it is a written document, the words and phrases of the Constitution are immensely important. They cannot be ignored, or assigned whatever meaning the interpreter wants. If they were, there would be little purpose in having a written Constitution. Yet there is an interpretive problem with understanding the meaning of these words. Do the meanings of the words change with the times, or ought they to be read exactly as they were intended in the Constitution’s first drafting?

Proponents of constitutional originalism argue that the meaning of the Constitution is fixed by the meaning of the words they had at the time they were adopted—their “original” meaning, as it were. New meanings cannot be invented, and old meanings cannot be avoided. The American people can change the Constitution by amendment, but they cannot alter its meaning to suit present purposes. Constitutional originalism is an argument that the majority may rule and legislate in the manner they please, as long as they do not violate the express terms of the Constitution.

By the 1960s, the Supreme Court – which is tasked with the interpretation and application of the Constitution – had set originalism aside. The new fashion was “living constitutionalism,” where the meaning of the words of the Constitution changes with the times. This gave the Supreme Court considerable flexibility in interpreting and applying the Constitution; Supreme Court judges now had considerable power to strike down laws they found objectionable. During the 1960s, the Supreme Court became a court of judicial activism. It used its power to interpret the constitution in order to advance particular policy ends, such as redrawing election districts, ending government-directed school prayers, striking down laws prohibiting the sale of contraceptives, or obliging police to recite criminal suspects their rights upon arrest (the famous “Miranda” rights popularized in television police dramas). Some of their decisions arguably realized good policy outcomes. But the Supreme Court’s analysis bore little relation to the words of the Constitution. The Court was assuming a sweeping authority for itself. Moreover, political conservatives were increasingly troubled that the Court only used its authority to advance ideologically liberal policy outcomes. As the 1960s progressed, the Court’s decisions provoked greater controversy than ever before. Conservatives became highly critical of judicial activism, but the Court was proving difficult to restrain and its decisions were more and more unpredictable.

In 1973, in Roe v. Wade, the activist Supreme Court went nuclear. It declared that the US Constitution provided a privacy right to abortion. It was an egregious case of judicial activism that flagrantly disregarded the text of the Constitution. The Constitution provided no right to privacy, so the court had to at once invent that right, and then argue that the right of privacy further entailed a right to abortion. The Court then claimed this right was to be protected from government restriction, making it, as a matter of constitutional law, absolute. What dismayed many about Roe, even supporters of abortion, was that it could not possibly be defended as an interpretation of the Constitution.

The consequences of the case were catastrophic, and not only in human terms. Since the 1960s, pro-lifers had been advancing the pro-life cause in legislatures and in the courts, advocating for protecting the life of the unborn. They had been winning noteworthy successes in the early 1970s, encouraging states to pass laws that restricted abortion. But Roe wiped all those gains out. Pro-lifers lost the chance to advance their arguments through democratic means, and were at once excluded from making legal arguments. Roe was a great political defeat for the pro-life movement.

To be continued…

Nathan Pinkoski is a DPhil candidate in Political Philosophy at the University of Oxford

What is the Unborn?

This article has been adapted with permission from the Alliance of Pro-Life Students


Have you ever tried to provide a scientific answer to the question ‘What is the unborn?’ without using the words ‘foetus’, ‘baby’, ‘embryo’, ‘child’, zygote’, ‘blastocyst’, ‘clump of cells’ or ‘a pregnancy’? Perhaps not. It’s easy, in the context of popular debate, to use the same terms over and over again. But it’s of vital importance to know exactly what you’re talking about when you use those terms. So, let’s give it a go.

From the earliest stages of development, the unborn is a distinct, living and whole human being.

And this can be proven by turning to the science of embryology.

Development begins with fertilization, the process by which the male gamete, the sperm, and the female gamete, the oocyte, unite to give rise to a zygote”

(T. W. Sadler, Langman’s Medical Embryology, 10th edition, Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2006, p. 11)

‘…a new cell is formed from the union of a male a female gamete. The cell referred to as a zygote, contains a new combination of genetic material, resulting in an individual different from either parent and from anyone else in the world

(Keithe L. Moore & T.V.N. Persuad, Before We Are Born – Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects [W.B. Saunders Company, 1998. 5th edition) p. 500

Both of these come from standard textbooks in embryology, and if you look, you can find many more. These facts about the development of a human being have been known for a long time. It is not controversial in the medical/scientific community to say that life begins at conception/fertilisation. This is a scientific fact. To deny that a foetus, embryo or zygote is a human being is to show your scientific ignorance.

But let’s flesh this out a little more.

As was said, the unborn (or what exists in a woman’s womb when she is pregnant) is a distinct, living and whole human being. But what is meant by each of these and how do we know they are true?

  1. Distinct: the unborn is a distinct human being. He/she has a unique DNA structure, different from his/her mother’s (and father’s) DNA. When sperm and egg combine at fertilisation, there is a new combination of genetic material.
    Furthermore, the unborn is not an organ of the mother. The unborn is not like a woman’s pancreas. The unborn is a distinct human which lives for 9 months or so in her womb.
  2. Living: in the category of things which are alive (as opposed to things which are not capable of being alive or dead like plastic or water) the unborn are undeniably alive. How do we know this? How do we know that they are not dead? Simple – dead things don’t grow. The unborn is growing extremely rapidly throughout its wombly existence, something it could not be doing if it were not alive.
  3. Whole: the unborn is a whole human being. It is not a part of a human being.
    Sperm and egg are parts of a human being. Left on their own they will never become a human being. Only when they combine at conception/fertilisation, does a whole human being with a complete genetic code come into existence. The 23 chromosomes from the father and the 23 chromosomes from the mother combine to give the complete 46 chromosomes that is typical of the human species.
    The unborn does not become a human being because he/she is already completely and fully human. Nothing more needs to be added to make the unborn a complete human. Yes, there is much development that must take place. Yes, he or she does not have a heart or brain at the very beginning of his or her existence, but at the very beginning of his/her existence, no heart is needed. When a baby is first born there is much development which needs to take place, but we do not deny that they are fully human. They are immature but they are no less human.
    Perhaps we can illustrate this in the following way. If I have a car chassis, I have part of a car. There is much more that needs to be added to make it a whole car. Similarly, the car engine is part of the car, as is the steering wheel, as is the gear box, as is the petrol tank. It is only when all these parts are added together (and many more) that we have a whole or complete car!
    Living things are not like this. They are not parts which are constructed from the outside. Rather, from the first moment of their existence, they are a whole and they are internally directed towards their mature selves. This is the same for all animals and plants. The unborn is a whole human being which needs time, nutrition and the right environment to mature.

Finally, we should note the species. An unborn human being is clearly a member of the species homo sapien. A male and female of the human species, when they procreate, can only produce another member of that species. And what is made in procreation, at the moment of fertilisation, is a distinct, living, and whole human being.

Greg Jackson is a former Student Support Officer for the Alliance of Pro-Life Students, and a former OSFL committee member

Event Preview: Greg Jackson on the Ethics of Abortion



Flash back to the Sixth Form common room: I, an enthusiastic pro-lifer, was willing to get stick for my beliefs, but really had very little idea how to communicate them. I remember one of my male friends making an off-hand comment that if he ever ‘got a girl pregnant’, of course he would tell her to have an abortion. Cue my outburst. I shouted. I told him how awful he was to think that: to talk about choice one moment and then to offer this hypothetical woman none. I was angry, and I was rash. The rest of our friends in the common room looked on as I got more and more exasperated and he just shrugged off what I had to say. The bell rang. We went to class. He probably forgot the conversation fairly quickly.

This was not an entirely fruitless conversation. I had a message a few months later from a friend who had witnessed this argument saying that he had changed his mind about abortion because of it. But really, I’m surprised that I got that note – I didn’t think I deserved it. I still worry that someone in the room who heard me decided, then and there, that they could never speak to me about abortion because of my reaction, or that one of my friends who might have been affected by abortion felt they could not tell me about it. Instead of showing the reasoning and the compassion that support my view, I might have made a lasting impression of anger. Part of me thinks that, carried away by emotion, I did not remember what it really was that we were arguing about.

This is not the kind of conversation that you want to have about abortion. When a friend makes a passing comment, you certainly need to talk to them about it, but hopefully with much more wisdom than I demonstrated that day. You need to be able to explain calmly why you are pro-life: why you know life begins at conception, why this matters, and why we have to provide real care for mothers and their children before and after birth. These are hard conversations to have, but they are some of the most worthwhile ones. I have learnt a lot since that argument, and am still learning with each person that I talk to about such a personal and important subject.

On Monday, Greg Jackson, former OSFL member and former Student Support Officer for the Alliance of Pro-life Students, will be talking to us about the ethics of abortion. It’s the kind of talk that would have helped me a lot in my Sixth Form days. He’s going to get us thinking about the questions at the heart of the abortion debate that each person must consider, and help us to understand the arguments behind the slogans we so often hear. If you’re pro-life but struggle to articulate why, if you think you’re pro-life but don’t really know why, or if you’re pro-life but struggle to keep calm and find yourself saying the wrong thing when talking to friends, then this is the event for you. Looking forward to seeing you on Monday!

RSVP: https://www.facebook.com/events/205661023120355/

Jo Jackson is co-president of Oxford Students for Life

Tips for Being Pro-Life Online

Being publicly pro-life can be tough – especially on the Internet. As someone who has posted op-eds I’ve written about pro-life issues, pictures of me and my friends at the March for Life in Washington, DC, and most of the undercover videos published by the Center for Medical Progress last summer, I have taken my share of public abuse on social media for my pro-life views. These are plain for all to see. But what people don’t see when they look at my page are the tens of productive discussions my posts have led to, offline. I’ve received just as many notes thanking me for my posts and the encouragement they give to those afraid to speak up about their pro-life positions. These posts have also led to in-depth and in-person conversations in which people who had never considered the issue before take one step closer to being pro-life. For every note I’ve received, I hope there are dozens more who have thought about the issue more seriously because they have seen my Facebook page. This makes the ridicule and conflict I often face eminently worthwhile.

Though I have by no means mastered the art of being a pro-life social media warrior, I will offer five tips from my experience about how to have more productive conversations about pro-life issues on social media platforms.

  1. Remember your audience.

If you’re American, fifty percent of your contacts are likely to be pro-choice. If you’re English, it’s more like ninety percent. Notwithstanding the tendency we have to befriend people of similar views, many if not most of the people seeing your posts are likely to disagree with you. When you write something, do so with the image of walking on a stage and speaking to 1,000 of your closest friends through a microphone (half of whom are booing you), not like you’re sitting in your parents’ basement alone with a laptop. That will help you manage the tone of your message and double-check the accuracy of your claims.

  1. Have a “hook.”

It’s helpful to anchor your comments by referring to current events instead of posting out of the blue. This increases the likelihood that someone will pay attention to your post when scrolling through their newsfeed. Plus, if your comments are timely and relevant, it won’t feel like you’re just moralizing your Facebook friends. People hate that.

  1. Back up your claims.

When you do post an article, be sure that it comes from a reliable source. This can be difficult to do in a media climate that is so blatantly pro-choice, but it’s worth the effort to add some authority to your claims. The facts surrounding such a controversial issue will always be matters of debate. However, you need to have a plausible explanation for your opinion, lest you be dismissed offhand.

  1. Watch your tone.

The pro-life message is a positive one: we appreciate the beauty and significance of every human life. Our tone must reflect that, and our pro-life social media presence can’t be limited to posting images of aborted fetuses (although such a strategy has a time and place). We lose when we do that because our tone becomes angry, negative, and off-putting. All the pro-choice side needs to do is find a famous actress to speak about the importance of abortion as a women’s rights cause. When it looks like pro-choicers are promoting a tangible good and pro-lifers are fighting against it, we have lost in the court of public opinion. So in addition to highlighting the horror of abortion, we have to post twice as much about the positive pro-life work that’s happening, not just for the unborn, but also for the elderly. A picture with a grandparent or baby, a link to a group facilitating adoption, a calendar of events at the local convalescent home — these are all subtle messages that will (hopefully) not provoke a big fight, but will celebrate every human life.

  1. Manage the comments.

When you are going to post something controversial, plan ahead. Choose your timing carefully so that you have a day on which you can manage the comments. Even if you post a coherent, factually proven point, your efforts will have the opposite effect you intend if there are a bunch of unanswered comments beneath it. It is best to arrange for a handful of people to keep an eye on the post and can come to your aid when necessary so you aren’t overwhelmed and it doesn’t look like you’re the only one of your friends with pro-life views. Furthermore, in managing the comments, remember that it is your page. You can choose the content of the discussion, and delete comments that are accusatory, irrelevant, or rude. Finally, don’t allow someone to bait you into saying anything that could be taken out of context later. Even if you delete content on Facebook, it is out there forever.

Social media is an important tool for promoting the pro-life cause in our generation. Its strength lies in its ability to reach a lot of people at once, many of whom may not have thought one way or another about the issue. Unfortunately, the breadth of reach often corresponds with a lack of depth. In a personal conversation about pro-life issues, you’re unlikely to change someone’s view completely — much less so on social media. You can’t expect a post or comment war to change someone’s heart. After all, the pro-life battle is one about hearts more than minds — no argument can prove beyond dispute that human life is worth living and protecting, even in the most difficult circumstances. People need to see this and internalize it for themselves. Our witness, in our daily lives and on social media, can help get them there, one step and one post at a time.

Aurora Griffin is a Rhodes Scholar from California

Pro-Life and Socialist

This article begins our first series of the new year, “Pro-Life and Political”, in which several writers will explain how their different political opinions shape their pro-life views. 

When I was asked to contribute a piece to this blog on being pro-life and socialist, I hesitated a little. Not because I didn’t like the idea of writing for Oxford Students for Life, quite the contrary! No, I hesitated because I have never associated my pro-life stance as being in any way linked to my self-proclaimed political position as a socialist. My anti-abortion thinking goes much more naturally with my faith as a Christian.

Some weeks later, I can sort of see why I was asked to bring these two sides together in a blog post.

Being pro-life is typically associated with right-wing, conservative thinking. That means politicians in the United States that go on about how everyone should have the right to have their own gun are often the same people that talk about the right an unborn foetus has to life.

Strange, really.

The right-wing of the political spectrum is usually the side that prizes individualism, choice, and self-determination. It’s typically the left end of the spectrum, where socialist ideologies sit, that presses for equality, looking after the most vulnerable in society, and giving a voice to the voiceless.

If we think about it, being pro-life actually fits much more comfortably into the socialist end of the political spectrum than it does into the right wing. That’s probably why 46% of Labour supporters in the UK, in comparison with 40% of Conservative voters (and 38% of UKIP voters), think the unborn child ought to have some sort of “legal protection of its own”, according to a recent poll.

Why do I think that “pro-life” is the right-shaped piece to fit in the socialist jigsaw puzzle?

It goes hand-in-hand with equality.

Upholding the value of human life is in no way at odds with advocating equality. In fact, the two are rather comfortable bedfellows. The thinking which governs calls for equality is that each and every person is of equal value and should be treated as so, regardless of their race, gender, religion and so on. This is the same thinking which is behind those that back the foetus’ right to life: every person should be treated with dignity, respect and with value.

After all, this is a human right. The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights underscores the ‘recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family’ as ‘the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world’.

Article 3 of this same document – the foundation of international human rights law – decrees: ‘Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.’ Another clause reads: ‘Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.’ These are the ground rules that govern the socialist rhetoric, which emphasises social solidarity and justice for all.

So why do people tend to disregard the unborn infant’s ‘inherent dignity’ as ‘a member of the human family’ and its ‘right to life, liberty and security of person’, as well as its ‘right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law’? Why, especially, should the school of thought that usually shouts the loudest for these rights for all people, suddenly abandon this thinking when it comes to the topic of abortion – shouting instead for the woman’s right to “choose” (ignoring the child’s right to live) and her right to go about her life without “the burden” of a baby?

It may not seem evident at first but in addition to being incompatible with the full recognition of human rights, abortion also has telling repercussions on the position of women in society.

The rhetoric of the self-styled ‘pro-choice’ camp fixates more than anything else on a woman having the right to choose whether or not she wants to have an abortion. But is it really a choice for that many women? Some of the top reasons that come up as having driven women to go through an abortion include fear that pregnancy and rearing a child will inhibit their career goals and the fear of not having enough finances to support a child.

I think we should be concerned about these concerns. Or what do you think: should we not be worried when women feel that the only way that they can get ahead in life and succeed in their careers is by ending their own children’s lives? The fact that so many women feel they must stop the pulse of the very lives breathing inside them shows that we have a long way to go in making women feel equal to men. For why should a woman’s unique and immensurable capacity to bring life into the world be something that she becomes ashamed of? Why should a child change from being a “gift” to being a “burden”?

And does it not say something about the inequality of our society when a mother feels that it is out of her reach to provide the monetary means for her child to live in this world?

Being pro-life and socialist actually shouldn’t be seen as a paradox at all. Being a socialist means desiring equality for all, looking out for the needs of the most vulnerable, and giving voice to the voiceless. Being pro-life means counting the unborn child as worthy of having rights – and that to life is the most important of them all. Being pro-life also signals a grasp of the reality that the foetus is a mute and defenceless human being who needs our voices and our law to protect it.

Ruth Akinradewo is a student at the University of Oxford and posts on her own blog, ‘The Change Channel’

A look back at one of the biggest pro-life moments this year

Earlier this year, a slew of undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood employees discussing the sale of fetal tissue made for a PR nightmare for the largest abortion provider in the United States. Conducted by a group called the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the undercover investigation suggested that Planned Parenthood had illegally profited from the sale of fetal body parts, and that abortion providers may even be modifying abortion procedures in order to obtain desirable tissue.

The videos added fuel to the raging debate in the U.S. over abortion. They made people ask whether Planned Parenthood, which bills itself as a non-profit providing millions of women access to affordable health care, deserves the half a billion dollars it receives from the federal government each year, in addition to state funding.

Staunch Planned Parenthood supporters decried the undercover investigation, arguing that the videos were selectively edited (one investigation alleged they were, while two others showed they weren’t); that fetal tissue is essential to medical advances (it’s rarely used); and that Planned Parenthood is a critical health care provider for women (more on this later).

It wasn’t the first time that undercover videos have suggested wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood, including covering up child sex trafficking and accepting donations earmarked to abort racial minorities. Previously, Planned Parenthood brushed off such scandals, firing implicated employees but otherwise continuing business as usual. Mainstream media ignored the stories, few people outside the pro-life movement reacted, and calls for investigations fizzled.

But something was different this time: CMP’s videos struck a nerve. While denying any wrongdoing, Planned Parenthood hired a fancy PR firm to do damage control, even pretending at one point that its website had been hacked in order to garner donations. Early in the scandal, president Cecile Richards apologized for one of her employees’ callousness of tone as she discussed fetal dismemberment while munching on a salad and sipping wine – although since then, Richards has gone on the offensive, calling for supporters to rally around the organization.

Planned Parenthood had good reason to be worried. Pro-lifers were galvanized: people came out of the woodwork to participate in nationwide protests and to become more active in the pro-life movement, and six states  discontinued funding for Planned Parenthood. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a measure defunding the organization, though it was later defeated in the Senate. Even members of the European Union Parliament demanded investigations and defunding of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

More interesting, however, was that despite media bias, even some who identify as pro-choice became uneasy and reconsidered their stance on abortion, as one writer describes:For those of us who are pro-choice, the Planned Parenthood videos are a game changer.” Others worry that Planned Parenthood’s alleged modification of abortion procedures to obtain intact fetal parts puts women at risk.

Further, Planned Parenthood’s approval rating  dropped among those who have seen the videos, continuing a downward trend in approval, from 81 percent in 1993 to 59 percent in 2015.  

Planned Parenthood and its supporters have tried to deflect the controversy over abortion by arguing that defunding the organization would leave millions of women without access to affordable health care, including well-woman exams, mammograms, and STD testing, as well as contraception. For instance, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) asserted that Planned Parenthood is the sole source of health care for one-third of U.S. women – 36 to 39 million individuals. But this is patently false; only 2.7 million women and men visit the organization every year. Planned Parenthood had also claimed to provide mammograms and that abortions comprised only a small percentage of their services. When Cecile Richards was called to testify under oath before Congress, however, she admitted that Planned Parenthood does not provide mammograms but only referrals, and that abortions account for 86% of revenue.

As pro-life advocates and community health experts have pointed out, for every Planned Parenthood facility there are a dozen community health centers that provide all the same services, including contraception, but do not perform abortions. These federally funded health centers serve as a one-stop shop for 23 million women, (and men, and children) for comprehensive health care, not just reproductive issues. There’s even a new interactive map of all the places that women can find affordable health care, and it includes providers one wouldn’t initially think of, such as schools and homeless shelters. Planned Parenthood has framed the discussion in such a way that support for defunding the organization pits one against women’s health, yet clearly, it’s possible to provide women with quality health care without America’s largest abortion provider. Accordingly, the House’s bill defunding Planned Parenthood contained a provision redirecting funding to community health centers.

Planned Parenthood ended up announcing that it will no longer accept any kind of reimbursement for fetal tissue. One might be cynical and say that this allows the organization to continue to perform abortions while putting to rest the question of whether it made money from selling fetal parts. But the reaction from people who were upset by the sale of fetal body parts, including many of those who were pro-choice, underscores the recognition, implicit or explicit, of the humanity of the fetus. After all, despite Planned Parenthood’s attempts to dehumanize the unborn person, the use of fetal parts for human research affirms the fact that the fetus is not a nebulous blob of tissue, but a member of the human species.

Planned Parenthood has big money, passionate supporters, and political clout, often making it impervious to oversight. But the organization’s response to the scandal – the apology for tone and its ceasing of taking any kind of reimbursement for fetal tissue – indicates wariness on its part that the general public is growing increasingly skeptical that Planned Parenthood deserves their trust.


Audra Nakas was a visiting student at Christ Church in Hilary 2013. She is a fellow with Ethika Politika.