by Russell Pollitt SJ
Days after the state of Alabama passed a law banning abortion US President Donald Trump tweeted his “strongly pro-life” stance. Ironically, at the same time, Associated Press reported on how a 16-year old Guatemalan migrant (the fifth child!) had died in US custody. He was held for six days, twice as long as federal law permits. In the last week Trump also threatened Iran. “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!” he tweeted.
Donald Trump and many of the conservative Christians who hail his stance on abortion are not pro-life, they are pro-birth. To be pro-life is to hold every single life as sacred, from the womb to the tomb. In Trump’s America children die in custody, automatic weapons – easily available – are regularly used to kill children in school shootings, police shoot young black unarmed citizens, the death sentence is meted out and homelessness has reached staggering proportions in California. Trump uses a “strong pro-life” ticket for political expediency.
Catholic Moral Theology helps us sniff out political opportunists vs a true concern for life. Deeply embedded in our Catholic tradition is the fact that every human life, no matter whose, must be respected, treated with dignity and protected. This has been consistent papal teaching.
The great American Cardinal and former Archbishop of Chicago, Joseph Bernardin, must be turning in his grave. Bernardin encouraged “the consistent ethic of life” which has also been called “the seamless garment”. He held that issues such as abortion, capital punishment, militarism, euthanasia, social and economic injustice all demand a consistent application of moral principles that value the sacredness of human life.
Bernardin’s vision of life attempted to expand our understanding so that we do not partition moral issues into airtight categories. His consistent ethic of life presents a coherent moral vision that holds a diverse set of moral dilemmas in relation to one another. It helps us sniff out and test who is truly pro-life.
Besides Bernardin, we have other great figures who worked tirelessly for life. The world lost one of its greatest pro-life prophets earlier this month, Jean Vanier who died in Paris. In 1964 he founded the L’Arche Community – homes for people with intellectual disabilities. Vanier’s life is a pro-life witness. He, surely, must be, with Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, one of the greatest global witnesses to what it means to be pro-life in our times. Sr Helen Prejean is another example. For years she has accompanied people on death row and advocated for the abolition of the death penalty. The powerful film, Dead Man Walking, is a testimony to her pro-life stance in the complex area of capital punishment.
Abortion is a pro-life issue. So are children dying in detention, mass shootings, homelessness, police brutality, militarism, euthanasia, social injustice and oppression. If you think about it, so too is concern for the environment. Catholic Moral Theology calls us to stand against all threats to the sanctity of life. Don’t be manipulated by pro-birth protagonists who masquerade as pro-life enthusiasts and reject a consistent ethic of life.
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