As you know, October is Respect Life Month, a month the Church in the United States has dedicated for calling to mind the sanctity of life and the need to defend it from conception until natural death. It is a month dedicated to raising awareness, support, and prayerful intention toward defending life, a position that generally gets referred to as being “pro-life.” The term “pro-life” is one that has often been tossed around the last few years. Claiming to be pro-life has been a political tool for some, used as an insult by others, and it has been a claim that has become easy to make, despite the hostility it can often draw. At the risk of sounding cynical, it is easy enough to claim to be “pro-life” amongst most of our friends, to sign a petition to support a “pro-life” cause, or to put a bumper sticker on our car, as many of us have done. That is not to say that claiming or doing those things doesn’t always come with challenges or isn’t good, but to be “pro-life,” beyond the nominal, requires a deeper introspection that each of us should make, continually. So, let us begin.
First, we must ask, what does it mean to be “pro-life” and why must we strive to be this way as Christians? The term “pro-life” has revolved heavily around the abortion debate and because of that, being “pro-life” has generally become synonymous (especially in secular discourse) with being “anti-abortion.” Being pro-life, however, is much more than being against abortion; it is the belief that all human life is a gift from God and is therefore sacred and worthy of special dignity and respect. This certainly includes being anti-abortion; a right to life is undoubtedly a first step in a defense for the dignity of the human person and as the Catholic Catechism states “abortion ... is gravely contrary to the moral law” (CCC 2271). And this is not to be dismissive of the extreme importance and work that is put into ending this intrinsically evil act that remains legal. As important as this is, however, a hyper-focus on the modern abortion debate can lead us to forget about other forms that defend and uphold the dignity of human life.
The defense against murder, euthanasia, and suicide are all a part of being pro-life that mustn’t be forgotten. Nor can we forget other grievous and mortal violations of the human person that occur in genocide, capital punishment, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, child abuse, domestic violence, elderly abuse, drug abuse, homelessness, poverty, and others. Pope John Paul II warned against a “culture of death,” a culture that, when separated from God, would reduce the human person to “a thing” and would “revert to a state of barbarism” (Evangelii Gaudium). Therefore, to be pro-life is to bring Christ to the world, so that others may not just be living, but can live fully alive in Christ. To be pro-life is to undo the tragedy of viewing people as things that can be overlooked, discarded, or forgotten but to remember them as those also made in the image and likeness of God. Being pro-life is to love people, and it is a command. Christ commands, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” and it is imperative that we do this as a foundational element of being pro-life.
As we bring to mind “Respect for Life” during this month of October and throughout the whole year, yes be anti-abortion, please. It is a leading cause of death in this country and must be stopped. But remember that being pro-life is to take into full consideration the dignity of the human person, the sacred nature of the human person, and to see Christ in others and love them.
Matthew Weller — SFA Theologians Guild Member