Pro-life: cultivating a consistent life ethic

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Photo by Helen Maier

Fellow Pro-Lifers, 

It is tempting, in our world of political turmoil and division, to grasp on to anything and anyone which seems in accord with our own views. 

If a celebrity, party or political activist advocates against abortion, we are all quick to praise them. We are quick to share sensationalist headlines from well-meaning pro-life groups on our Facebook pages. We are quick to make these speakers’ anti-abortion messages, usually taken out of context, fit into our pro-life movement. 

However, if we are willing to ignore the gap between “pro-life” and “anti-abortion,” our message and intention to protect life becomes muddled.

Recently, Republican speaker Abby Johnson and presidential candidate Kanye West have been propped up by pro-life movements and organizations for advocating for unborn children. These speakers are, by definition, anti-abortion. 

This is all well and good, but my question for my fellow independent thinkers is this: can we really call someone pro-life if they do not advocate and protect all life? What is the use of adopting mascots for the pro-life movement when they do not represent the whole movement?

When a political speaker steps up to speak against abortion, we also have to take seriously that person’s statements on other issues of life and dignity. 

Johnson, one example among many, defends life in the womb but has openly advocated for racial profiling. In a recent open-letter video, Johnson cited distorted statistics and remarked that police officers would be “smart” to profile her black son over her other white children.

We need to remember that the pro-life movement is not only about protecting life, it’s about defending the dignity of life, too.

In his encyclical “Laudato si’”, Pope Francis wrote, “When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected.” 

This idea that everything is connected is essential to our understanding of the pro-life movement.

I am not calling for a condemnation or a “cancellation” of speakers who speak for one thing and stand for another; these speakers’ dignity is important too. I am saying that if we are to cultivate a pro-life society, we need to hold those who speak for life to a much higher standard. 

By jamming our signals with praise for celebrities and politicians who are less than enthusiastically involved in defending life, we are confusing ourselves and those we are trying to convince. 

We ought not to attribute goodness or virtue to agendas or platforms which fail human life, even if they sometimes succeed in honoring it. By doing so we ignore the truth that all life is connected. 

It is no easy thing to be pro-life. Anyone who calls themselves “pro-life” – whether they are Catholic or not, a presidential candidate or not  – has to challenge their own claim. They must ask themselves: am I pro-life, or am I only anti-abortion?

None of us are saints yet. While we guide each other and let the Holy Spirit guide us, let us not stoop to a level where we sacrifice the core of our universal mission to protect life in order to uplift agendas that only marginally understand and represent that mission. 

If we are to continue, sustain and succeed in our effort, we need to cultivate and preserve a more authentic, universal and consistent life ethic. 

“We defend life,” wrote Catholic speaker Katie Prejean McGrady in a recent Instagram post. “Not because it’s convenient. But because it’s commanded. The life that’s wanted, valued, and treasured and the life that’s rejected, vulnerable, and threatened. The lives of the unborn, the targeted, the aged, the imprisoned… the life we know and the life we don’t.”

When we march and speak up for unborn babies, let us also march and speak up for any type of life which is being threatened: black lives, elderly lives, prisoners’ lives, the lives of those you agree with and those you disagree with. 

Such a goal requires regular self-searching and an understanding of the current state of our country and our world. 

In our quest to speak for and protect the dignity of human life in the womb, let us not push aside, ignore or de-emphasize the importance of the array of types, stages and ways of life between conception and natural death. 

Let us try to know the lives we do not yet know while protecting the lives we know now.

1 COMMENT

  1. Ellie,

    I think I agree with your article. However, here are a few issues I have with it:

    1. The “consistent life ethic” / “seamless garment” argument only serves to keep the Catholic vote divided and thus paralyzes what political clout the Church might otherwise have in the United States. It’s a red herring and only distracts from the question that should be asked: When all the moral issues in our current society are weighed in the balance, which one(s) should be attacked by a (preferably) united Catholic vote first? (I know that voting wasn’t a part of your article. But it’s an election year; everyone’s thinking it.)

    2. There’s a little bit of semantics involved when the term “pro-life” is forced to encompass any moral issue whatever—even if it isn’t a life-or-death issue—which is what the term is purportedly supposed to signify. This isn’t an attempt to refute your main argument, with which I think most people would agree. It’s just to point out what I think should be obvious: The pro-life position exclusively has to do with life-or-death issues (abortion, infanticide, euthanasia)—as the term suggests. It’s not useful to flatten out a plethora of moral issues under this umbrella term as if one moral issue were equally as pressing as the next here and now in 2020.

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