By Mitchell C. Hescox
Who doesn’t know that doctors tell pregnant moms to limit fish consumption during their pregnancy because of mercury? This is basic and lifesaving advice. As a father and now a grandfather, I know the importance of listening to your doctor especially during pregnancy. While eating fish can have tremendous benefits to the baby and the mother, the presence of mercury in fish means that moms have to limit their intake. Mercury can have a devastating impact on the unborn; unborn children who are exposed to mercury, a potent neurotoxin, are at much higher risks for lowered IQ, reduced motor and language skills, cardiac problems and a host of other threats to their life and quality of life. Mercury pollution levels are getting so high that as many as 1 in 6 children in the United States are born with threatening levels of mercury, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control.
For years, the ministry I lead, the Evangelical Environmental Network, has taken a clear pro-life stand, which has extended to protecting our unborn children from this threat. The largest single U.S. domestic source of mercury, 50%, comes from coal burning power plants. Mercury emitted from smoke stacks falls into our waters and enters our food chain through fish. Currently, all 50 states issue fish consumption advisories for high levels of mercury. As the threat of mercury continues to grow, we strongly endorse EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics standard, which protects our children through the reduction of mercury emissions.
Groups like the National Association of Evangelicals and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as well as over 100 senior evangelical leaders who signed our common statement, understand that this is a pro-life concern. Anything that would diminish a baby’s right to their God given gifts threatens the abundant life that God intended. During my recent testimony before the Energy and Power Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman John Shimkus (R-IL) in an attempt to refute my testimony read the following from a document issued by the Cornwall Alliance that same morning:
The life in pro-life denotes not quality of life but life itself and only refers to opposition to a procedure that intentionally results in dead babies.
We couldn’t disagree more and so do many others. Focus on the Family has produced a wonderful video about defending the sanctity of human life that states:
Like a new set of glasses that helps us see the world with greater clarity, the value of human life defines how we see and respond to those around us. From the formation of child’s first tiny cell to life’s final breath, all life has dignity and value because each and every one of us is made in the image of God. And that is why when we talk about “pro-life,” it’s not some political issue. It’s a world view ” it’s a life-view”
We agree with Focus on the Family that to be pro-life is to understand that the “life” message is part of a seamless message upheld in Christian Scripture and in the life of Jesus.
But we are confused and disappointed that Tom Minnery, Focus on the Family’s Vice President for Policy, joined with the Cornwall Alliance statement against protecting our unborn from mercury poisoning. It is this contradictory message of defending the unborn from abortion, but not from powerful industries and donors who profit from mercury pollution that diminishes one’s quality of life, that gives the evangelical community a black eye to so many in our society. Many are asking, how can you be pro-life and ignore the impacts of toxins like mercury on the unborn?
Life is a gift from God and remains sacred in our eyes. Together we stand committed against abortion that terminates the life of over 1.2 million children in the United States each year. We also stand committed to protecting the lives of the millions of children whose lives and ability to reach their God-given potential is threatened by mercury and other hazardous waste. Only by protecting the quality of an unborn child’s future from pollution like mercury can we be consistently pro-life. Such consistency is how we begin to transform our culture into one that is seamlessly and totally pro-life.
Let’s stop this politically motivated attack against life and the value of our children. The Cornwall document, quoted by Congressman Shimkus, calls for a cost/benefit analysis, a cost benefit analysis to see if it is worth saving the lives of the unborn. Attempting to force dollar limits on whether to protect life lessens our nation and totally rejects our founders’ words of our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This is unconscionable and shows Cornwall’s overt libertarian bent.
As evangelical Christians let us value all life as a precious God given gift and protect that life, especially the most vulnerable from mercury and other toxins. Bishop Stephen Blaire of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops who stated in support of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, “Who wouldn’t want cleaner air and water, it just makes sense.” We couldn’t agree more.
Rev. Mitchel C. Hescox is the President & CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network.