Recently Leila Miller, a Catholic writer with a certain following, complained, yet again, about what she calls the “kitchen sinking” of the term “pro-life.” She worries—given the existence of that pesky New Pro Life Movement—that the term must now include everything, I mean everything, even the wery kitchen sink.
Her post was in response to this article at the right-wing Catholic Vote, by Eric Sammons. “Why I’m Through Being Pro-Life”: that’s the title. In it Mr. Sammons bewails the New Pro Life Movement, and others who broaden the term “pro-life” to include more than just being against abortion (and, to be fair, contraception and euthanasia). He writes:
I haven’t even addressed a less charitable possibility: that some pro-lifers call everything a pro-life issue because they want to minimize the importance of abortion. They don’t believe abortion is really that bad (and might even be necessary sometimes), so by lumping everything under the pro-life label, they make abortion just one of many issues. And as we’ve often seen, it becomes an issue that never rises to the top in terms of priority.
Well, uncharitable it indeed is, but it is more than that; it is a lie. I mean, the New Pro Life Movement lists opposition to abortion first among its beliefs. Mr. Sammons says that abortion “never rises to the top,” which is very odd, since the New Pro Life Movement puts it at the very top.
But Mr. Sammons is honest about one thing. “As for me,” he says, “I’ve come to realize that I’m no longer pro-life. Just call me anti-abortion. It’s accurate, specific, and tells the whole world that I’m unabashedly opposed to child-killing.”
Now, you know, the Old Pro Life Movement apologists have long objected when people say, “You’re not really pro-life, you’re just pro-birth.” But now, behold, Mr. Sammons admits it is true (at least of himself), and Catholic Vote publishes it. All those other right to life issues apart from abortion? Pooh!
The mask and the pretense to actually being pro-life have now been cast off. Which might actually be a real good.
Meanwhile, let me explain why, if you reject a larger meaning to “pro-life” than just that you are against abortion (or contraception and euthanasia, too), you are fighting the Church. It’s as easy as pointing out that, in Evangelium Vitae, St. John Paul II himself “kitchen sinks” pro-life. The encyclical is about “the value and inviolability of human life” (which is larger than it just being about the evil of abortion); and here is what John Paul writes at the outset, in §3. The section is titled “New threts to human life.” (“Threats,” in the plural. And here he is citing Gaudium et Spes 27.)
The Second Vatican Council, in a passage which retains all its relevance today, forcefully condemned a number of crimes and attacks against human life. [Not just one or two.] Thirty years later, taking up the words of the Council and with the same forcefulness I repeat that condemnation in the name of the whole Church, certain that I am interpreting the genuine sentiment of every upright conscience: “Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practise them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator.
Well, now; talk about kitchen-sinking! Whatever is opposed to life is a pro-life issue, according to John Paul II, according to Gaudium et Spes. And he lists not just abortion, not just euthanasia, but genocide; suicide; mutilation of the body; torture; subhuman living conditions; arbitrary imprisonment; disgraceful working conditions; deportation (deportation—note that, Trump apologists); prostitution; slavery. There are fifteen pro-life issues on this list alone. All of them are “infamies.” They all “poison human society.” They are all “a supreme dishonor to the Creator.” And St. John Paul II condemns them all “in the name of the whole Church.” (That is, not just in his name alone, as a private opinion, but as the teacher of the whole Church.)
They are all pro-life issues. But St. John Paul II doesn’t stop there. By no means. He goes on, in the very next section, to say that the number of pro-life issues is “expanding.” So there are more than these fifteen. “With the new prospects opened up by scientific and technological progress,” he says, “there arise new forms of attacks on the dignity of the human being.” In fact, the number of “grave threats to human life,” according to John Paul II, is “countless” (29). The kitchen sink may very well be one of them.
And that is why the New Pro-Life Movement exists. In an earlier article, I showed that the goals of the New Pro Life Movement—every last one of them—come directly from the Magisterial teaching of the Catholic Church. And given that St. John Paul II (with Gaudium et Spes) lists no fewer than fifteen pro-life issues, and says that the number is expanding and might very well be “countless,” it is odd that any Catholic would complain about “kitchen sinking” pro-life. We ought to be kitchen sinking it, if we think that life itself—not just this issue or that—really is sacred and inviolable. The Church teaches that life is to be protected “from conception to natural death,” which doesn’t mean just at each end of life and not at all in the middle.
Was St. John Paul II trying to push abortion to the bottom of the list when he said the number of pro-life issues is “countless”? I understand someone who might say, “Look, I’m glad you’re calling attention to all these other issues. My particular focus happens to be abortion, I choose to focus on that alone, but I’m happy there are others bringing attention to other evils and other threats to life.” Very good. No objection.
And I understand if someone says, “Well, abortion is particularly heinous.” Of course it is. No one denies this. No one claims that all life issues are of equal gravity. They don’t need to be.
But what I will never understand is spending so much time fighting, not abortion, but fighting the Church and engaging in a turf war over the term “pro-life,” as though it can only mean the fight against abortion, and nothing else. (Except contraception, except euthanasia.) That is not how John Paul II treats being pro-life. And is it any wonder at all why someone would say, “You’re not really pro-life. You’re just against abortion. You’re just pro-birth.”
And now at least one person is admitting it, at Catholic Vote. Count me out. I’m pro-life.