The Common Good
March-April 1995

When Anti-Abortion Is Not Pro-Life

by Shelley Douglass | March-April 1995

How people responded to the December 30 murders of abortion clinic workers in Massachusetts depended in large part on the ideological position of the responder.

How people responded to the December 30 murders of abortion clinic workers in Massachusetts depended in large part on the ideological position of the responder. For many, it seemed, initial human revulsion at senseless slaughter was quickly mitigated by the abortion agenda itself.

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Indeed, in the extreme anti-abortion camp, the response seemed to be unholy glee rather than any mourning for those who had died. Supporters of accused killer John Salvi vigiled outside the Norfolk, Virginia jail where he was held, carrying signs that read "We Love You, John" and implicitly promising more killings as they defended "justifiable homicide."

The mainstream pro-life movement moved to condemn the killings and to distance itself from murder as a tactic, but in some cases the protest left much to be desired-as in the case of the editor of a diocesan newspaper who blamed the killings on the Supreme Court, which made the Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

Predictably, pro-choice and pro-abortion groups called for a total end to all clinic demonstrations, repentance on the part of all church and pro-life leaders, and renunciation of provocative language by the other side.

Most hopeful were responses from Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston and from a new California Coalition of Pro-Life Organizations. Law called for a moratorium on clinic demonstrations, a commitment to prayer for pregnant women and their children, and an opening of dialogue among "persons not accustomed to speaking to and hearing one another on this issue." The purpose of the dialogue, Law said, would be "to unite in support of alternatives for those pregnant women who are seeking an abortion."

In California, the LA Times reported a meeting of 15 of the state's "top anti-abortion activists" who spent three hours together molding an anti-violence statement. Participant Teri Reisser of the Right to Life League of Southern California acknowledged a rift in the movement: "How can there not be [a rift]? We will not embrace those who talk of justifiable homicide."

There is a difference between being pro-life and being anti-abortion. Cardinal Law and the Coalition groups are beginning to point to that difference. As the United States becomes less generous and less hospitable to the poor in what amounts to a Contract on America, it is important that we begin to understand just how great that difference is.
CARDINAL LAW'S December 30 statement pointed out a starting place: "I urge us all to recommit ourselves to the way of nonviolence in thought, word, and deed."

What would that mean? Jesus was explicit: "It was said 'Thou shalt not kill,' but I say to you anyone who says to a sister or brother 'you fool' is a murderer." Hate language must cease on both sides. Hate language allows each of us to avoid the truth of the other side: that our world does not welcome new babies; that at the very least a fetus is an incipient human being, not a lump of jellied protoplasm. If we could put those truths together, we might decide to make the world more welcoming for all humans, before and after they're born.

If we read the gospel with a critical eye on our own lives, Jesus provides us with a scale to measure our pro-life commitment. We are not to kill, not to hate, not to hold our sisters and brothers up to ridicule, not to judge. We are to love each other, to love our neighbor and enemy; to share with those who have little, to care for the children, to give our lives for each other. Jesus calls for a profound commitment to the kindom, and to the path of nonviolence leading there.

In response to Jesus' call, perhaps we could go one step farther than Cardinal Law: declare a moratorium on public demonstrations and make it a time of prayer and fasting and self-examination to see where we ourselves have contributed to the escalation of violence. We could declare a rift with those who would take life to protect it, and then begin to root out and destroy our own violence.

The way of Jesus is an all-inclusive way, so that our self-examination would extend beyond our attitudes toward abortion and abortion providers. We would have to measure ourselves against the gospel itself, which calls for unconditional love and self-giving. The Seamless Garment statement-which links abortion with war, racism, the death penalty, and euthanasia-might be a practical guide.

If such a time of prayer and repentance is initially declared only by those who call themselves "pro-life," so be it. We certainly have plenty of repenting to do. If we undertook that difficult path of prayer and repentance wholeheartedly, we might end in surprising company. Perhaps there could be a moratorium on most abortions, while together we explore ways we have not yet imagined. We might possibly all be converted together to Jesus' way.

SHELLEY DOUGLASS, a Sojourners contributing editor, lives and works with formerly homeless families at Mary House in Birmingham, Alabama.

 

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