BY JULIA SMUCKER
As explosive a combination of topics as the subject of this article appears to be, I am aiming here to address a systemic problem in a way that can hopefully cut through the usual polemics. The particular problem I am referring to is the disproportionately large representation of racial minorities in both abortion rates and military recruitment in the United States. I am using this problem as both a concrete example of how life issues interpenetrate and a jumping-off point for addressing them each more broadly while continuing to hold them in parallel. I aim above all to avoid the finger-pointing that occurs far too frequently on all sides of these issues and to make instead a proposal for reconciliation.
One can read any number of things into the statistics, depending on what one is looking for. Some activists have accused abortion providers or military recruiters of deliberately targeting minorities, but on reflection, I doubt that such charges are either true or helpful. In all probability there are many people working for organizations such as Planned Parenthood who sincerely believe they are helping by providing health care to the underserved and many military recruiters who likewise believe they are helping by providing education and career opportunities. And in fact they are providing these things -- but at a far greater cost than they can or will acknowledge. In both cases, life-affirming activities are bound tightly together with life-denying ones, and the added racial dynamic only compounds the problem. When minorities are compelled to sacrifice both their unborn and adult children in disproportionate numbers, what this amounts to is systemic racism, which is no less unjust for being unintended. Several injustices combine to create this problem, and violence is at the heart of each.
Photos (L-R) by Tess Watson and The U.S. Army; some rights reserved.
In responding to such complex problems, it should go without saying that it is not enough to simply be anti-abortion or anti-war or even both. Even the more positive identifiers of "pro-life" and "pro-peace" are often sadly reduced to narrowly "anti" connotations, especially when they are talked about in a vacuum and compartmentalized as separate "issues" in a way that ignores their interrelatedness. In order to promote life and peace, it is necessary to break apart the vacuum-sealed compartments and address the connections among issues, both by targeting the root causes of violence and providing consistently life-affirming alternatives.
Regarding the root causes, I see the deeper question beyond the statistics as this: what leads so many Americans, and minorities in particular, into situations in which abortion or military enlistment appears to be the only viable option? This question is big enough to deserve its own separate treatment and touches on a variety of areas beyond my expertise, so I will not attempt to answer it here. Yet it must be raised as an essential foundation for preventing violence through the creation of nonviolent alternatives. If, instead of debating the justification of certain forms of violence, we could begin by agreeing that they should all be prevented as much as possible, then we could focus on making such prevention our common goal: from crisis pregnancy centers to ensuring a just livelihood for parents and children at all stages of life; from equal-opportunity education to just peacemaking and conflict prevention strategies. Maybe then we wouldn't even need to argue on the level of hawks and doves, pro-life and pro-choice.
In proposing this basis for common action, let me acknowledge outright that I have been speaking from the premise that all violence is intrinsically evil -- and that war, abortion, and racism are all forms of violence. We could easily go around in circles debating the finer points of this premise, but I would like to suggest a better alternative. Whether or not one can fully agree with my premise, I hope that we can all at least agree that all three of the above are tragic and undesirable and that, given this agreement, it is possible to work together toward eradicating their root causes and providing positive alternatives. This strikes me as a much better use of our energies than debating whether and under what circumstances any of these tragedies may be permissible.
In the end, what I am calling for is nothing less than a paradigm shift, by which it will become possible to see allies in those we have seen as enemies.
A version of this piece previously appeared on Vox Nova (www.vox-nova.com).