Foreign Policy Flashback: The Complexities of Pro-Life Policies

Grace Hardy

Chief Editor


On October 22, 1979, the Shah of Iran was admitted into the United States in the wake of the Revolution that seized the nation. The Shah had been at the center of US Foreign Policy in the Middle East, where the Nixon administration partnered with the Shah’s regime to counter Soviet influence in the region. The Shah looked to modernize Iran and was seen by the late Henry Kissinger as a friend to the United States and its agenda in the Middle East. However, the Shah was far from beloved at home. His secret police, the SAVAK, created an atmosphere of fear and terror among the Iranian people as dissidents were tortured for small infractions, with others many facing execution. 

Yet, what does this regime’s story have to do with the pro-life cause? Looking back on US foreign policy and the decision to admit the Shah, one large consideration weighed by President Carter at the time was the Shah’s cancer diagnosis and declining health. He was told by advisors that he immediately needed medical care only available in the United States. In this, the US government took a step to preserve the life of the Shah knowing that relations with the new government in Iran would likely suffer to some degree. However, while this decision was made compassionately, taking into account the value of the Shah’s life and necessary medical care, this decision came to endanger the lives of Americans who remained in the country at the embassy in Tehran. As a result of admitting the Shah, 52 American lives were put in danger as they were held hostage by Iranian students for 444 days. In addition, 6 American embassy employees escaped and went into hiding at the Canadian embassy until they were rescued by the Canadian government and the Central Intelligence Agency.

The question at this point, with the benefit of hindsight, is did the US government make the correct decision with regards to the value of human life? More importantly, how can our leaders learn from this tragedy to make foreign policies that are in line with our pro-life values? 

This question has no one right answer. Retrospectively, the decision to admit the Shah was ill-conceived and jeopardized American public servants abroad. However, one could certainly make an argument that the decision to admit the Shah was justified as he was pushed out of his oppressive dictatorial rule in part due to his support of policies that were favorable to Western interests. Furthermore, his health was in danger, and the sympathetic decision would be to give him the best care regardless of the repercussions. 

However, the world that we occupy is not idyllic. Sometimes difficult decisions must be made for the “greater good”, whatever this ubiquitous phrase means at the time. Hence, this tale of tragedy in the Middle East illustrates that while pro-life advocates, such as myself, claim that our position is simpler, this is not always the case. While it is simpler to claim that life begins at conception rather than establishing somewhat arbitrary dates of when life begins, it can be much harder to ascertain whose life is more important; a dictator whose life is in mortal danger or the possibility of harm to Americans. Where there are no right answers or happy endings, clarity in one’s convictions is hard to find. Recognizing the value of human life is among the most important issues of this generation, but hideously more complex than one might expect.



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