By Aaron Wilson
“Have I really been sending mixed messages about when life begins?” Mary asked herself as she drove home from her coworker’s baby shower.
Mary looked at her two kids through the rearview mirror and remembered the “Repeal Roe v. Wade” bumper sticker she had displayed on the back of her minivan. Mary bit her lip and continued to mull over a comment a pro-life friend had made at the shower.
“I wish Christians would stop using ‘parent-to-be’ labels,” Mary’s friend had whispered as a “mommy-to-be” sash was draped over the guest of honor. “It sends such a poor message about life in the womb.”
Mary had never thought of this before. She considered herself to be as pro-life as they come, but she also knew she’d used the terms “mommy-to-be” and “daddy-to-be” at baby showers, gender-reveal parties, and in celebratory comments for ultrasound pictures posted on social media.
Now, she was questioning whether such language squared with her belief that life begins at fertilization.
“To-Be” or Not “To-Be?” That’s the Question
Mary’s concerns are well-founded. “Parent-to-be” language for expectant families is inconsistent with a worldview that seeks to honor life before birth.
Logic states if a pregnant woman is a “mommy-to-be,” what she is carrying must be a “child-to-be.” And if this were the case, why would pro-lifers be surprised when parents consider aborting someone they’ve been told isn’t yet a person?
Sadly, a “parent-to-be” label communicates that parenthood, and thus personhood, isn’t achieved until after a child’s birth. This message runs counter to a biblically informed ethic that claims life begins at fertilization—a belief grounded in passages such as Psalm 51:5, Isaiah 44:2, Psalm 139:13-14, and Luke 1:41, 44.
Since “mommy-to-be” and “daddy-to-be” language sends a mixed message to the world, those who believe life begins at fertilization may want to retire the terminology. This is especially true considering the ambiguity that overshadows some Americans’ claim to be pro-life.
Pro-Lifers Who Are Pro-Abortion?
Recent polling from Gallup finds Americans evenly split on whether they consider themselves pro-life or pro-choice, with each label representing a 48 percent share of the population.
But while almost half of Americans call themselves pro-life, the same study shows 6 in 10 Americans believe it should generally be legal for a woman to have an abortion in the first three months of pregnancy. Meanwhile, almost two-thirds of Americans (62 percent) have a favorable or mostly favorable view of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s leading abortion provider.
And according to the latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, more than 60 percent of Americans say they don’t want to see Roe v. Wade overturned.
In other words, some Americans say they are pro-life while still holding favorable opinions about organizations that perform abortions and the laws that allow abortions to take place.
Because of this inconsistency, it’s important for Christians to be precise in their language regarding personhood to let others know what they mean when they claim to be pro-life.
Language Reflects a Worldview
Vocabulary can be influential when it comes to issues relating to life and abortion. This is why those who feel strongly on such issues often choose their words with specificity.
Note how careful people are to use either the term “child” or “fetus” when referring to a baby in the womb. One description humanizes preborn life while the other refers to it in purely clinical terms.
Or, notice how pro-life proponents describe abortion as “the taking of a life” while organizations like Planned Parenthood call it “the ending of a pregnancy.”
Comedian and late-night talk show host Michelle Wolf recently demonstrated the importance of word pictures related to preborn life when she provided on-air commentary on the possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned.
“Some people say abortion is ‘killing a baby.’ It’s not,” Wolf said to a national audience. “It’s stopping a baby from happening. It’s like Back to the Future and abortion is the DeLorean.”
Like this pop culture reference, the use of “parent-to-be” language shapes a view on when life begins. Do pro-lifers believe it takes nine months for parenthood to be established—a time frame during which people can hop in their “abortion time machines” and get a do-over if they’re not ready to be parents? Or are moms and dads formed as soon as a life comes into existence at the point of fertilization?
If the latter is true, “parent-to-be” language is misleading and should be abandoned by the church.
A Consistent Message
Of course, even the most precise pro-life terminology means little if not accompanied by pro-life action administered in love.
Christians must be willing to back up life-honoring words with deeds that extend love to those who are wrestling with decisions that affect life. And the church must show it values all of life, in all circumstances, to demonstrate a consistent ethic to a watching world.
But words do matter—especially on the topic of life. For this reason, it’s time for pro-lifers to expire “parent-to-be” labels in order to send an unswerving message about when life begins.
Aaron is associate editor of LifewayResearch.com.