Life issues: Related, yet distinct


 By Christopher Gunty

Some issues are typically partisan – gun control, abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty – with Republicans and Democrats coming down clearly on opposite sides of an issue. The problem is that it’s really not that simple.

To be truly consistent in logic and morals, one must recognize that these issues, as well as poverty and health care, are all linked to the inherent dignity of human life from conception to natural death.

The late Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin first enunciated the “consistent ethic of life” theory encompassing a wide range of topics in a 1983 speech at Fordham University. In a 1988 newspaper interview, the cardinal said, “The beauty of the consistent ethic is that it provides an overall vision and it shows how issues are related to each other, even though they remain distinct. You can’t collapse them into one. Each requires its own moral analysis.”

On the steps of the nation’s Capitol this week, Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, delivered the invocation prayer at the second inaugural ceremony for President Barack Obama. She invoked “the spirit of our ancestors, which has allowed us to move from a nation of unborn hopes and a history of disenfranchised hopes to today’s expression of a more-perfect union.”

She was speaking to a crowd that applauded the rise to the highest office in the land of an African-American man whose ancestors had many unborn hopes and who shared that history of disenfranchisement. Evers-Williams also prayed, “May the inherent dignity and inalienable rights of every woman, man, boy and girl be honored. May all your people, especially the least of these, flourish in our nation.”

Unfortunately, she was speaking to a crowd that included many who, like the president, have endorsed the right to abortion, and for health-care policy that includes taxpayer-funded sterilization and possible abortifacients. The hopes of the unborn apparently matter less to the Obama administration than the unborn hopes of a generation, and “the least of these” for him does not include the most vulnerable in our world, the people not yet born.

In his address, the president said, “Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.” Perhaps in his mind, life’s “worst hazards” don’t include being ripped from the womb.

He also said, “We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.”

We agree: poverty must be eradicated and those who are less fortunate should have equal opportunity to survive and thrive.

In a 2009 homily at a memorial for Cardinal Bernardin, Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki, auxiliary of Chicago, said, “Unfortunately, the ‘consistent ethic of life’ was sometimes misunderstood by some to imply that all life issues were of equal weight. However, Cardinal Bernardin stated, ‘I’ve made it very clear that at any given time one issue may have to be given much higher priority than others. I’ve never said that they were all equal or that they all required the same attention.’”

Hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers will gather on the National Mall Jan. 25 for the March for Life, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that allowed abortion virtually on demand, throughout a woman’s pregnancy. The crowd will occupy the same public space as the crowd for President Obama’s inauguration. They will focus, as usual, on abortion, but will also highlight other issues of human life and dignity.

This week presents our nation with another opportunity for those who respect life to demonstrate how deep their conviction is, and for our president to show how we can care for the most vulnerable. All life is sacred; you cannot promote one issue without understanding that all are distinct, but linked.

 Copyright (c) Jan. 25, 2013

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.