I was walking around downtown last weekend, minding my own headspace (or trying to), when quite suddenly I was struck by the sheer diversity of those gracing the streets of my city. There are so many differences among us—our ages and our skin colors, our sizes and our shapes, our sexualities and our gender identities, our abilities and our educational attainment, our economic classes and our religions, our levels of innocence and dependence. Yet a common thread ran from each to each: our humanness. It was an existential moment, in which I saw our connectedness laid out in front of me like a spider’s web sprawling for miles. And I was reminded of these words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Indeed, when we support an act of violence against one human being, we undermine our support for all human rights. The multifarious circumstances of our lives matter not a lick to the question of our dignity and worth. Truly and honestly caring for human rights necessarily requires a deep, profound, and pervasive respect for our shared, inherent human dignity; it requires a personalist worldview that puts the human at the center of all that we do.
We can accept that “pro-life” is a single-issue word meaning only “opposition to abortion,” or we can take it to its logical end (and its beginning!) by extending the respect for the inalienable right to life to each and every human being in each and every circumstance. It is dismaying that the mainstream pro-life movement has been tied so closely to a political party whose leaders (and often constituents) support hawkish war policies that kill civilians overseas, throw their weight behind the death penalty, and give credence to torture and “enhanced interrogation.” We often hear that prolifers don’t care about people after they’re born—why does that stereotype persist? Perhaps part of the reason is that consistent-life-ethic supporters (like me) have been pushed to the fringes of the pro-life movement. Cardinal Bernardin has been made out to be a villain by some pro-life leaders, yet the question among most of those who embrace the consistent-life ethic isn’t whether ending abortion is the most urgent cause we could champion (it most certainly is), but whether being pro-life ends there.
I’ve been accused of using the consistent-life ethic as a tactic. I’ve been accused of heading a front group for some right-wing conspiracy. I’ve been accused of not truly caring about ending violence against the preborn. But none of these charges is true. I don’t embrace the consistent-life ethic because it’s a good strategy for reaching disenfranchised and disillusioned millennials (though it is). I don’t embrace the consistent-life ethic to get people to become conservatives (I’m pretty left-leaning myself). I don’t embrace the consistent-life ethic to give cover for leftist politicians who campaign hard for the abortion industry (I have not once voted for or supported a politician who supported abortion).
I embrace the consistent-life ethic simply because it is true.
It is true no matter your age or size or race or sexuality or religion or gender identity or ability or class or level of innocence or dependence: Human beings have inherent, unchangeable worth and dignity. This worth and dignity demands respect, demands that we be treated always as ends in ourselves and never as mere means. Out of this worth and dignity flows the inherent and inalienable right to live free from violence.
So when I say that being pro-life should necessarily require opposition to all forms of aggressive violence, it is not because I am trying to equate abortion and war, or imply that torture and embryonic-stem-cell research are equivalent, or say that euthanasia and capital punishment are the same. It is because all of us, as members of the human family sharing this same intrinsic human worth, are connected. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” And each act of aggressive violence that we perpetuate in our culture and in our laws compounds the disregard for human dignity.
We need to stop choosing sides. We need to stop allowing our movements for life and for human rights to be dragged slavishly behind political parties that could care less about actually passing laws to abolish abortion, stop war, or otherwise end legalized violence against human beings. We need to be strong, principled, and above all: human-centered. This doesn’t by any means imply that we slow down or do less in our efforts to end abortion (it is, after all, the most urgent issue by sheer numbers and complicity alone); but it means that we refuse to treat any human being as expendable in our search for justice. Because, in the end, we are all connected by the only thread that matters: our humanity.
This article originally appeared as part of the Human Life Review's symposium "Whole Life vs. Pro-Life?" accessible on their website: http://www.humanlifereview.com/symposium-whole-life-v-pro-life HLR Editor's note: "We asked participants to respond to one or more of three questions: 1) Should people who defend the right to life of the unborn and the dying call themselves “whole-life” or “consistent-life” rather than “pro-life”? 2) Does defending the right to life today require particular political commitments? 3) Is the “whole life” movement really a newly fashioned “seamless garment”—Cardinal Bernardin’s “linkage” movement of 1983?" What do you think of the symposium entries? Let us know in the comments!