This is a very strange statement coming from leaders of a movement who regularly claim John Paul II as a guiding force. It is without dispute that the anti-abortion movement in America considered John Paul II a powerful advocate for their cause, and it is equally true that John Paul II’s most decisive teaching on abortion came in his historic encyclical “The Gospel of Life”, written in 1995. Anyone who knows the history of the anti-abortion movement in America knows the significance of this writing—along with Francis Schaeffer’s Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, “The Gospel of Life” is a central text for those convinced of the anti-abortion position. And certainly John Paul II in that writing viewed abortion as the most significant pro-life issue facing the world. But the primacy of the issue of abortion in no way limited John Paul’s understanding of the term pro-life to just abortion. In fact, at the very beginning of “The Gospel of Life” John Paul says:
The Second Vatican Council, in a passage which retains all its relevance today, forcefully condemned a number of crimes and attacks against human life. Thirty years later, taking up the words of the Council and with the same forcefulness I repeat that condemnation in the name of the whole Church, certain that I am interpreting the genuine sentiment of every upright conscience: "Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practice them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator".5
The signers of the Cornwall Statement are in serious error, according to John Paul II and Vatican II, when they say that the only “truly pro-life issues” are “abortion, euthanasia, and stem cell research”. The anti-abortion movement can certainly turn to John Paul II’s writings as confirmation of the primacy of the issue of abortion, but they are completely out of step with John Paul’s understanding of the gospel of life when they attempt to exclude environmentalists and others from using the term “pro-life” to describe their work.