We Need a Whole Life Response to Extreme Access-to-Abortion Laws

My son Theodore was born when he was 36 weeks and 2 days old. Together, his body and mine decided that that was the time his life would transition from one lived inside the womb to one lived outside of it. His birth day was not the day that his life began, it was the day it changed from depending upon an umbilical cord for nutrition to depending on breasts, from being swaddled in amniotic fluid to being swaddled in arms, from sleeping on my bladder to sleeping on my chest. Many things changed the day Theo was born, the value of his life was not one of them.

I write today in response to the extreme access-to-abortion bills being passed, proposed, and considered in several states across the country. My current home state, Vermont, has proposed one of the most severe, calling for unrestricted abortion access for anyone at any time for any reason.

The emergence of these extreme access-to-abortion bills in several states during a time of intense polarization in our country presents a unique opportunity for those who value life at all stages—who often straddle political party lines—to unify. If the pro-life movement acts and reacts in meaningful and intentional ways at this particular moment in history, it has the potential to definitively gain momentum.

The proposed Vermont bill highlights and systematizes values (or the absence of values) in a way that has roused many dormant pro-lifers, and even thoughtful pro-choicers, to speak out against it.

I use the word “dormant” to describe those who, like myself, consider themselves decisively pro-life, but typically disagree with the narrow focus of much of the popular pro-life movement and therefore tend to stay on the sideline when it comes to publicly advocating against abortion. “Thoughtful pro-choicers” refers to those who, while holding positions (contrary to Church teaching) that allow for abortion to be considered in the early weeks of pregnancy or in regulated, informed, medical settings, feel that the proposed bill goes too far in its allowances.

Broadening the scope of the anti-abortion argument to embrace and promote a “whole life” perspective could be the most effective way to protect the specific life of the unborn child.

While often the whole life movement is found calling for those who value the lives of unborn babies to equally value the lives of immigrants, women, non-Christians, those with black and brown skin, prisoners, the ill, elderly, and disabled, among others, now is the time for us to vociferously persuade those who value the lives of many marginalized and vulnerable people that the unborn baby does, indeed, fall into that category. Comparatively, it seems to me that this should be a much easier task.

The pro-choice movement has successfully and effectively framed the abortion conversation as one of women’s rights, ignoring the life and vulnerability of the child. But in what other situation does pitting one group’s rights against another’s result in justice? Creating such stark divisions has often been used to preserve oppression, while justice has been achieved by greater solidarity among the vulnerable and a both/and approach.

Rather than argue for the rights of the women or the rights of their children, we must emphatically reframe the conversation as one of wholistic human rights. Let us not be tricked into the lie of binary thinking just because it is presented as progressive. There is nothing progressive about discounting the humanity of one group of people for the benefit of another. That is a practice that has been used for centuries to preserve the power of the elite.

Whole life proponents have argued that tying legal restrictions on abortion to support for parental leave and protections against pregnancy discrimination could attract a much wider base of support. Promoting and supporting legislation that both restricts abortion access and offers concrete alternatives helps change the question from “Who gets to flourish?” to “How can we ensure mutual flourishing?”

The original version of the Vermont bill stated that “a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus shall not have independent rights under Vermont law.” After a public hearing on the bill at the Vermont State House and a committee debate about “how far the bill should go in codifying the definition of personhood under Vermont law” the next morning, the House Committee removed this particularly troubling sentence from the bill before passing it out of committee. While changing nothing in practice, this small measure gives me hope that some of the testimonies delivered at the public hearing did reach the ears and hearts of our lawmakers.

The Vermont bill, as it currently stands, is still upsetting in that it allows for unrestricted abortion for anyone at any time for any reason. However, something stopped the representatives in that committee from definitively claiming that the baby in the womb was not a person. Maybe we can still convince them that it definitely is a person, and that person, like all others, has human rights.

These extreme access-to-abortion bills appearing across the country do not represent who we are as Americans seeking just and humane policies of inclusion that value women, families, the marginalized, and the vulnerable. We can, and must, do better.

Stephanie Clary serves as the Manager of Mission Outreach and Communication for the Diocese of Burlington and the Assistant Editor of Vermont Catholic.


Bishop Stowe: Pro-Lifers Should Not Sport Slogans of President Who Denigrates and Endangers Immigrants

Bishop John Stowe of the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky writes:

I am ashamed that the actions of Kentucky Catholic high school students have become a contradiction of the very reverence for human life that the march is supposed to manifest. As such, I believe that U.S. Catholics must take a look at how our support of the fundamental right to life has become separated from the even more basic truth of the dignity of each human person.

Without engaging the discussion about the context of the viral video or placing the blame entirely on these adolescents, it astonishes me that any students participating in a pro-life activity on behalf of their school and their Catholic faith could be wearing apparel sporting the slogans of a president who denigrates the lives of immigrants, refugees and people from countries that he describes with indecent words and haphazardly endangers with life-threatening policies.

We cannot uncritically ally ourselves with someone with whom we share the policy goal of ending abortion…

Respect for the sanctity of human life included the promotion of all that is necessary for all humanity to flourish. While the church’s opposition to abortion has been steadfast, it has become a stand-alone issue for many and has become disconnected to other issues of human dignity.

This past November, the U.S. Catholic bishops issued their first pastoral letter on racism since 1979…. The pastoral letter describes racism as a “life” issue; that perspective needs to become part of our educational curriculum. Students must grapple with this history and ask themselves how they are going to live differently….

The pro-life movement claims that it wants more than the policy change of making abortion illegal, but aims to make it unthinkable. That would require deep changes in society and policies that would support those who find it difficult to afford children. The association of our young people with racist acts and a politics of hate must also become unthinkable.


The Pro-Life Movement: Consistency and Legitimacy vs. Embracing Trump

Michael Gerson writes:

If you believe that a fetus is a member of the human family from its first moment — and millions of Americans do — then opposition to abortion is inherently a social justice issue. It is the defense of the weak and voiceless against violence….

To be consistent, of course, you would need to care equally for the lives of women in crisis. And for the health and welfare of children after birth. But that is my point. Defending human dignity at every stage of human development is not a commitment currently embodied in either political party, nor in either conservatism or liberalism. People who hold this view should be against Roe v. Wade and against the separation of children from their parents at the border. They should be opposed to the dehumanization of unborn children and the dehumanization of refugees and migrants. The legitimacy of pro-life sentiment is demonstrated by its consistency….

But if the overturn or revision of Roe comes, it will almost certainly return greater flexibility to states regarding the regulation of abortion. This will kindle dozens of debates across the country and become a contest of persuasion and organization.

It is then that the Trumpification of the pro-life movement will exact a price. There is a serious cost when a movement that regards itself as pro-woman associates with misogyny. There is a serious cost when a movement that claims to be expanding the circle of social inclusion associates itself with nativism and racism. There is a serious cost when a movement that needs to be seen as charitable and reasonable associates itself with the politics of abuse and cruelty….

Maybe gaining two justices is worth it. But I am skeptical. The pro-life movement needs to be, and be seen as, advocating the defense of the weak against the strong. Trumpism is the elevation of the strong against refugees, and against migrant children, and against minorities.


To be Consistent and Side with the Vulnerable, Progressive Catholics Must Defend the Unborn

MSW writes:

In short, the Catholic left has cared less about its own integrity and more about strengthening ties with Democrats on other issues. Sloppy moral reasoning has employed narrow factoids and slim, exceptional cases to promote indifference on the issue. A libertarianism of the left on social issues has become as pronounced, and as pernicious, as the libertarianism of the right on economic issues. Both are unworthy of Catholics….

Liberals claim that they speak for the voiceless, but how can anyone believe there is moral consistency when their voices are silent in defense of the unborn? We defend the undocumented. We defend the unemployed. We defend all those who are defined in our society by what they lack, all those “un’s,” but not the unborn? How is that morally consistent?

Liberals excoriate those who deny the science about climate change, and appropriately so. We insist, rightly, that science yields important knowledge that must be respected as such, and not subjected to ideological censors. We value education, believing that ignorance is a curse akin to a plague, and in a democracy, a lethal curse. Yet, strangely, liberals seem unable to discuss what happens in a surgical abortion. They surround the procedure in euphemisms. Yet no one can truthfully deny that abortion is a violent act, gruesome even. On this issue, and this issue only, liberals are encouraged to turn away from the reality of the thing itself.

Liberal Catholics love Pope Francis, but he has not been shy about denouncing abortion. He sees it, rightly, as part and parcel of the throwaway culture that is generally indifferent to both human life and the life of the planet in its pursuit of a lifestyle of ease for those rich enough to afford it….

When I lived in Washington, I came to know many wonderful Catholics who are engaged in fighting for immigrants and for the poor and for the environment. I also came to see how few were the times when these Catholic activists were willing to challenge their Democratic allies for their indifference to the cause of prenatal children.


President of the Pontifical Academy for Life Backs Whole Life Approach

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, told Crux:

I won’t allow anyone to be more ‘pro-life’ than me. I want to be pro-life from the beginning, all the way to the end, and just that. I also want to be pro-life in all the conditions and situations of life.

Precisely because I’m pro-life, I can’t accept, for example, the death penalty. Because I’m pro-life, I can’t accept that immigrants die on the streets. Because I’m pro-life, I can’t accept that in the United States, in these first six months [of 2017], there have been 6,500 deaths involving firearms, meaning more than double the number from the Twin Towers.

In this sense, according to me, and I told the American bishops this in February, I believe that the time has arrived in which the Church must take up the defense of life in a global sense, including the ecological question.


Whole Life Pope Identifies Immigration as a Pro-life Issue

Christopher White writes:

During his in-flight press conference en route home from Colombia, the pope recalled that “I heard the president of the United States introduce himself as a ‘pro-life’ man.

“A good pro-lifer understands that family is the cradle of life, and that its unity must be defended,” the pope said.

The pope’s remarks came in response to questions regarding Trump’s recent decision to rescind the DACA program, which protects qualified immigrants from deportation – a move the pope says he hopes the president will “rethink.”

While some Republicans and Trump supporters have pushed back against the Pope’s whole life approach, including the highly partisan Susan B. Anthony List, others have emphasized how valuable this approach is, including Millennial writer Nichole Flores:

“I’m surprised that he would address the situation so directly. But I’m also not surprised, because it is an essential part of the pastoral and prophetic witness of the Catholic faith,” she told Crux.

For Flores, the Church’s ability to offer a consistent ethic of life has the capacity to convert skeptical hearts and minds.

“In order to make a moral case for one of these issues, we have to make the moral case for all of the issues,” she said.

“To sacrifice one for the sake of staying within the bounds of a particular political party’s orthodoxy really erodes our ground for speaking prophetically and pastorally to another issue. And it really erodes the ground of the pro-life movement to not defend the lives of immigrants,” she added.


Why Young People Should Embrace the Whole Life Movement

At first glance, the term “whole life” can conjure up numerous different feelings, depending on the context. There are those that believe it’s just another euphemism for the right-wing anti-abortion mob; there are those that see it as another movement in the Christian community that won’t actually take us anywhere. I believe it to be the opposite; yes, it is a largely Christian-based movement, but in the right context, the whole life movement has an extremely effective message that can be preached to people in all walks of life—not just the devout Christian ones.

To be honest, I have never liked the term “pro-life.” To me, nearly everyone is inherently pro-life in some sense—no sound individual consciously wishes for the destruction or oppression of any person or group. But far too many of those who identify as “pro-life” are simply pro-birth. Being pro-life must mean something more that. If one is truly pro-life, then they are concerned not only with the beginning of a life, but with all aspects of it, including its quality. This is the message of the whole life movement: that all people, regardless of religion, race, gender, or any other demographic traits, have an inherent dignity that should be upheld by all people.

The whole life movement covers a variety of bases when it comes to modern issues. It teaches that feminism is a good thing and that yes, we should protect the environment for future generations. It offers alternatives to abortion, improvements in the adoption system and access to prenatal care, rather than simply relying on laws that would restrict the procedure and criminalize women who feel they have no choice but to seek an abortion. I completely agree with this approach. I think the whole life perspective is extremely effective because it presents what has traditionally been seen as a conservative issue in a progressive way; it also includes some traditionally progressive issues in a way that should appeal to conservatives. It proves that there are achievable solutions to even the most controversial of topics. This is an effective and virtuous way to cater to both sides of the country, and to the world. As our country is continually divided by the two parties, it is important to be able to focus on a shared goal, and that is the common good for all living creatures.

As a young, Catholic, feminist, liberal woman, I have a lot to stand for. The pro-life and pro-choice movements simply do not fit my ideals—they turn large-scale moral debates into black and white issues with simple answers to complex questions. Identifying as whole life, however, signifies openness and willingness for change. It also presents an opportunity for Christians to abandon traditional ideas that are long out of date and become aware of important modern-day causes, such as the empowerment of women and girls. These issues should not be the subject of controversy, but a point of agreement that is based on the recognition that something must be done. Someone must advocate for those without a voice, whether that be the poor, the young, the outcasts, the trees, the animals, or the unborn. Through my exploration of this topic, I have come to believe that a whole life perspective is the way I wish to approach today’s challenging issues, and I hope that many others are ready for this fresh mindset.

Jillian Veader is currently a student, writer, and musician at the Academy at Penguin Hall.