The Real Work of Being Pro-Life – Part 1

This column was written in May after the leak of the Supreme Court abortion ruling that became official on Friday. -tl

For many years, on a particular Sunday in January, several hundred of us participated in a pro-life gathering in Stevens Point.  It was an intriguing mix of ages, denominations and, I suspect, professional, economic and political backgrounds, all focused on a common, necessary purpose.

One year I realized that many of the Catholics I’d come to know and appreciate for their commitment to gospel justice were missing.  That year’s presenter was stridently political and disarmingly hostile in her tone.  The message wasn’t particularly life-giving or life-affirming; unlikely to encourage or sway minds or hearts, or help those who’d gathered to become instruments of gentle, loving persuasion.  It was a call for taking sides, and I wasn’t sure which side I was on.

This wasn’t a matter of opposing abortion and the destruction of human life.  That was a given.  The tension I felt that day, and have felt through these intervening years is what “pro-life” means and how it complements or conflicts with efforts, many well-intentioned, to influence political and legal outcomes.  Should a candidate who opposes abortion, for example, automatically be regarded as “pro-life”?  Or, is there more?

The inner tug of that long-ago wintery event, returned amid the rancor surrounding the leak of a Supreme Court decision that would end a legal protection for abortion.  It’s heightened my frustration and regret that in putting so much energy into the legal aspects of abortion, those of us who promote life have not better addressed what prompts a woman to make such a choice.  In working to change laws, we haven’t worked at changing minds and hearts.  A presumed legal victory is a bit hollow without the other.

I won’t go into all the moral inconsistencies that contradict a “pro-life” position centered exclusively on abortion.  Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Pope Francis and so many other moral and faith leaders have urged consistency in advocating for life and protecting life.  Significant to the argument is that we strengthen the case for life by being consistent in defending life across the vast spectrum of the human experience – from conception to natural death, as is often stated, which includes a lot of controversial and, quite frankly, messy life issues in between.  As Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago so powerfully explained, if we pull one thread from the seamless garment of life the entire fabric of life is jeopardized.  He never wavered in his opposition to abortion.  But, he always insisted upon more.

Also central to this reality, but often overlooked in the harsh political give and take, is the need to promote circumstances that welcome and sustain the babies who are born, and who will be born, but who, regrettably, are unwanted and unloved.  Society also needs to enhance stability and trust among women anticipating the birth of a child, and after that child is born.  Such concerns have largely gone unmentioned in the recent conversation. 

Lost amid all the competing sound bites, for instance, was this statement from the U.S. Bishops: “As Catholics, we care about every unborn child and every mother. Our Church has consistently witnessed in word and deed that life begins at the moment of conception. …  We pledge to redouble our efforts to accompany women and couples who are facing unexpected or difficult pregnancies, and during the early years of parenthood, offering them loving and compassionate care.”

In other words, as I ponder their statement and the challenge it identifies, it’s all too apparent that the real work of promoting life has just begun. TL

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