“I do not believe that just because you're opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don't? Because you don't want any tax money to go there. That's not pro-life. That's pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.” —Sister Joan Chittister
A common misconception is that to be a pro-life Catholic, one simply has to be anti-abortion and anti-contraception. For years this “pro-life” definition has largely been unchallenged. That is, until recently.
A poll conducted in 2014 by the Public Religion Research Institute found a majority U.S. Catholics favor greater government involvement on economic issues via minimum wage increases, infrastructure investments, and universal healthcare. Furthermore, U.S. Catholics believe that to promote economic growth, the government should raise taxes. These aren’t just pro-growth policies, they’re pro-life policies.
Recently, Pope Francis stated, "Health is not a consumer good but a universal right, so access to health services cannot be a privilege."
And in Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis hints at a support for higher wages for the poor and low-skilled workers.
“A just wage enables them to have adequate access to all the other goods which are destined for our common use,” he wrote in the 2013 document.
This year, in one of his most talked-about statements, Pope Francis decried anyone who “thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges.”
Aside from the metaphorical meaning, I think Pope Francis favors balanced and widespread infrastructure investments. In the past, Pope Francis has repeatedly spoken about the dignity of work and the necessity for universal employment and shared prosperity. And time and again, reports have shown infrastructure investments promote widespread economic growth and prosperity.
Being pro-life doesn’t end with economic issues.
In 2012, Fr. James Martin, the editor of the Jesuit run America magazine, called gun control a pro-life issue. Last year, in a statement with over 100 signers, among them 31 presidents of Catholic colleges and universities, Catholics called on elected officials to recognize immigration as a pro-life issue. On climate change, a majority of U.S. Catholics believe greenhouse gases are causing climate change and that humans are largely to blame.
Most recently, Catholics began seriously questioning the just war theory. Eighty Catholic activists and educators met in Rome, at the request of Pope Francis and the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace to discuss the concept of a just peace. This discussion is necessary because war itself is the enemy of life.
And on LGBT questions, roughly six-in-ten U.S. Catholics now support same-sex marriage. Eighty-five percent of U.S. Catholics ages 18 to 29 say homosexuality should be accepted, and three-quarters of that age group also supports same-sex marriage.
Even among churchgoing Catholics, that is those who attend mass weekly, acceptance of homosexual people stands at 60 percent.
In an article for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Sr. Mary Scullion uplifted the life of Margie Winters, an LGBT Catholic in a same-sex civil marriage.
“The Church is at its best when it listens to the Spirit speaking in our times and through human experiences,” she wrote.
Whether the Church officially recognizes it or not, being pro-LGBT is part of the pro-life movement.
This insistence by some pro-life U.S. Catholics that government can’t work to solve social problems, or at least alleviate social problems — from poverty to climate change, gun violence, access to affordable healthcare, LGBT rights, war, etc. — is total nonsense. One way or another, these issues must be addressed by the Church. If U.S. Catholics are concerned about the integrity or effectiveness of government, their efforts should be on greater oversight and reform, not lower taxes and less government.
The role of government isn’t to make a profit, like in the private sector. Rather, its purpose is to enact policies which seek to promote the general welfare of each and every citizen, be it economically or socially.
To that end, Pope Francis calls on governments to “ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare,” and that they not act “without regard for shared responsibility.”
Pro-life Catholics who ignore these and other truths are diluting their pro-life credibility. Pro-life Catholics who only talk about abortion and contraception have hijacked a truly pro-life Catholic movement. These kind of “pro-life” Catholics may have coined the term pro-life in the mid-20th century, but that doesn’t mean they own the pro-life label.
It’s unfortunate there’s not currently a unified pro-life Catholic coalition. Such coalition would be a political force to reckon with in 2016 and beyond.