Discontent with the mainstream pro-life movement has been simmering for some time, but this election season, in America, the simmer has turned to a boil, as many who have long considered themselves pro-life reach a new exasperation with the Republican party’s co-opting of the movement, and with the willingness of movement leaders to be co-opted.
This is partially because being pro-life should extend beyond party lines (there are pro-life democrats, pro-life distributists, pro-life libertarians, pro-life socialists, and many, many pro-life independents). But more, it is because we are appalled to find that the crowned pretenders to the throne of movement leadership have hitched the rhetoric of anti-abortion to a platform that is negligent of, or even hostile to, life issues beyond the rights of the unborn. And now, by tortuous paths of questionable logic, we are assured that the best way to save lives is to support a demagogue who has repeatedly demonstrated his disdain for the dignity of person, unborn or otherwise.
Mary Pezzulo, in “Whatever Happened to the Pro-Life Movement,” writes:
“The pro-life movement is infested with cranks who suffer from monomania. Most of us know someone of this type. When you mention that children are dying from bombings in the Middle East, they say “You know what else kills children? Abortion.” When you mention neglect in nursing homes, they say “You know who else is neglected? Unborn babies.” When you tell them that pigs suffer in gestation cages, you’re reminded about fetal suffering. When you talk about AIDS, they tell you that Doctors Without Borders is pro-choice. When you can’t take it anymore and pour yourself a soothing rum and Coke, they tell you there are human fetal cells in Pepsi.”
We’re relieved that it’s finally being expressed and shared, this sense of betrayal, this anger to find that something we worked for and believed in was always just part of a larger power-play.
In “I am No Longer Pro-Life,” Leticia Adams voices what many of us feel:
“I feel completely free from an obligation to go along with things that I disagree with. I don’t agree that just being against abortion makes a person pro-life. I don’t agree that someone who gets gleeful about the idea of bombing towns until they light up knowing that means dead women and children is pro-life. I don’t think that people who think it’s ok to put children in detention centers like cattle are pro-life.”
From a feminist perspective, let’s just put this out there, too: that the movement has been infected with misogyny, not just on the cranky edges, but right down the middle. Feminists are portrayed as “feminiazis,” the complicated and often heart-rending choice of abortion equated with murderous war-crimes. While it is often suggested that women should be punished for abortion, no one mentions punishing the biological fathers who were party to the situation (personally, I am not a fan of punishing, in most cases). While the movement not only tolerates but bends over backwards to excuse Trump, it turns around and vilifies theologians and feminists who wish to address the larger issues surrounding abortion, issues of poverty and abuse and lack of health care.
Maybe this is a blessing. Maybe, after over forty years, we can realize that we need to take a different tactic, distancing ourselves from party politics and allying ourselves with anyone, regardless of affiliation or religion or sexuality or race, who is committed to the dignity of life. And we need not, after splitting off from the mainstream movement, go our separate ways in frustrated isolation: we need to try to find solidarity with one another, especially at a time when disunity is the name of the political game, and when those of us who don’t toe the Trumpian line might come in for some grief. We should try to put culture warring behind us, because war, after all, is not very pro-life.
This is the time to embrace a whole-life ethic.
Robert Christian, in “What is the Whole Life Movement”, writes:
“The whole life movement is not a rival of the pro-life movement. Instead, it seeks to purify the pro-life movement of its inconsistencies. A pro-life movement that ignores infant mortality rates, starvation, or the degradation of the environment simply does not deserve the label ‘pro-life.’ It becomes a mere euphemism for supporting laws that restrict access to abortion. It becomes detached from the understanding of human dignity and worth that should animate the movement. Only a whole life approach can make the pro-life movement authentically pro-life.”
A recognition of the dignity of unborn human life can only make sense in the context of recognizing the dignity of all human life. This means eliminating the causes that drive women to abortion; it means working to end racism and domestic abuse and rape and gun violence and poor working conditions; it means opposing all war, all capital punishment. Defending human life needs to be a serious business, at the heart of all that we do, not just a side-note as an excuse for beating the liberals. It needs to permeate out entire approach to the world. It needs even to permeate our view of those leaders with whom we are angry, those closest to home who are hardest to love.
Oh, and let’s take it a step further. Let’s respect all life, not just human life. That means radical opposition to all cruelty towards animals, poaching, factory farming, commodification of pets. That means not just cute animal life, but creepy animal life. The fact that a snake grosses someone out does not nullify its value as a living thing.
We should respect plant life, too, from the ancient redwoods that fill one with awe to the tiniest blade of grass. We should even respect single-celled organisms. We should rekindle an alertness to the mystery of the web of life all around us, of which we are a part. We need to stop thinking that stewardship over creation means appropriation and utilization of creation, keeping in mind that as soon as we approach a living thing with a mind to how we may use it we are reducing it to a thing-for-us, situating ourselves selfishly as masters of a universe we actually only barely understand. A poetic stance towards nature needs to come to the fore. We should be delighted, awed, overpowered by the myriad of growing, animate beings around us, and regard each one as precious in its own way. We should see all creation singing glory to God, and tremble in fear at disturbing this song.
Now is the time to become whole life. Think how radical this could be.
(Image credit: Iris, from the author’s collection)