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Why being pro-life is about more than opposing abortion

I first saw the movie “The Fugitive” in 1993. It's a story about Dr. Richard Kimball (Harrison Ford), who is framed and wrongly sentenced to die for the murder of his wife. He escapes and embarks on a quest for the one-armed man he knows actually committed the murder. All along, the U.S. Marshall (Tommy Lee Jones) is trying to hunt him down and bring him to justice.

As a 15-year-old, I appreciated the movie for its action and mystery. But a few weeks ago, I watched it again—this time, through the eyes of a 38-year-old husband, father and pastor. That’s when I noticed something—a subtle but beautiful pro-life message that permeates the film: You aren’t really pro-life until you’re willing to die to preserve it.

The term “pro-life” brings to mind two things for most folks today: Abortion and politics. But being pro-life goes far beyond mobile sonogram clinics and Capitol Hill. It’s about being pro-life like God is pro-life.

God put humans in a garden (Gen. 1:26-31; 2:7-15) to flourish and cultivate life around them. He gave his people the commandment, “You shall not murder” (Exod. 3:16) and made provision to protect life, even for those who unintentionally took the life of another (Deut. 19:2-6). Then Jesus, when he reinforced the law in the Sermon on the Mount, carried the implications of being pro-life into the way we talk to and forgive one another (Matt. 5:21-26).

The Apostle John later exposed the fact that the heart behind not murdering is active love; anyone who truly knows God goes out of his way to love others and cultivate life in them (1 John 3:11-15).

That’s what I noticed about Dr. Kimball. His remarkable pro-life ethic not only had him laying his life down to save others, but as he gave his life away, it changed others’ lives. Paradoxically, as he laid his life down for others, he ended up saving his own. Sound familiar? (Luke 9:24, 17:33) Dr. Kimball displayed this in several ways:

Pro-life, saving lives

First, he’s a doctor. His day job is to preserve life. But it goes beyond that. This is demonstrated when the bus carrying Dr. Kimball to prison crashed and was about to be hit by a train. As he’s about to escape, he looks back and sees an injured guard. With the train barreling down, he risks his life to rescue the ones who had kept him unjustly in chains (Acts 16:23-34). When Dr. Kimball sees the guard again at a hospital, he risks being caught to inform the paramedics of the particular way the man needed to be medically treated (Luke 10:33-35).

Then, there’s the scene that changed everything. In his quest to find the one-armed man that murdered his wife, Dr. Kimball disguises himself as a hospital janitor so he can gain access to prosthetic records. But on his way safely out, the doors to the ER bust open, and an influx of patients from a massive accident are brought in. Dr. Kimball notices a little boy on a gurney whose chest X-ray has been misread. He knows the boy needs an emergency operation and will die if he doesn’t do something. So he picks up the chart, writes down the proper diagnosis and talks to the boy with a caring bedside manner.

As they roll the boy into the operating room, Dr. Kimball, with a smile on his face, gently touches him on the cheek and says goodbye. But another doctor noticed. She calls the police, and Dr. Kimball is forced to go on the run again. The Marshall eventually shows up and asks about the janitor’s patient. “How’s the boy he sent to surgery?” The reply? “He saved his life.” In that moment, the U.S. Marshall goes from believing he’s chasing a murderer, to appreciating the life and character of an innocent man.  

Pro-life, changing lives

While Dr. Kimball’s pro-life ethic through the movie saved lives, it also ended up changing a life. For most of the film, the U.S. Marshall is cold and indifferent and only sees him as an animal to be track down. But once he saw the length Dr. Kimball went to save lives—by risking his own—even the Marshall changed.

In the final scene of the movie, he escorts Dr. Kimball into the back of a patrol car and sits next to him. Then, he reaches over, removes the handcuffs and puts an ice pack on his bruises. Dr. Kimball says, “I thought you didn’t care,” to which the Marshall replies humorously, “Don’t tell anybody.” He now sees Dr. Kimball as a human, worthy of dignity and respect.

A pro-life ethic has to be about more than life in the womb (though it cannot be less). It has to be about the way we treat our spouses, friends, family and neighbors with love and respect and about stewarding the gifts and position the Lord entrusts to us in order to protect and care for the weak.

When we are so pro-life that we are willing to die to preserve life, it changes the coldest, most cynical hearts. When we speak with gentleness and care, even toward our enemies, because we are pro-life, it influences them. When we are so pro-life that we speak lovingly to and about our family (be it nuclear or church), even when they are unkind to us, we will see a beautiful resurrection happen in others.

Turning from “pro-me”

A life spent trying to protect our own lives or our own rights isn’t pro-life. It’s “pro-me” at the expense of others. Being truly pro-life means we’re always willing to stop someone else’s funeral, even if it means starting our own. Like Richard Kimball did with that prison guard. Like Paul and Silas did with their own prison guard. And like Jesus did for all of us (John 11:45-53).

Jesus is the Great Physician who often went out of his way to heal and speak life, many times to children that no one else could help. He is the one who, though innocent, died to change our hearts that were murderous toward God. That kind of sacrifice changes the way we live. It turns hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. It moves us to die so others can live. Because Jesus sought the dead to make us alive, we’re free to be pro-life, daily dying to ourselves in order to give life to others (2 Cor. 4:11-12).

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