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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Was John Paul II "dangerous" to the anti-abortion cause?

The leadership of the Cornwall Alliance is worried about the pro-life movement. According to a new statement they have written, signed by major figures in the anti-abortion movement, they believe that the integrity of the term “pro-life”, as well as the political effectiveness of those who want to end abortion, is under attack. Their statement is signed by major figures in the anti-abortion movement and it is gaining media coverage. Although the immediate object of Cornwall’s wrath is environmentalists who claim the pro-life label, the argument they are making over the definition of pro-life has ramifications well beyond environmental concerns. The signers of this statement want to weed out anyone who they believe waters down the term “pro-life”, but their definition of what constitutes watering down the term is anyone who is “appealing to a ‘seamless garment’ of support for life, or to being ‘consistently pro-life’ or ‘completely pro-life.’” In other words, anyone who sees the term pro-life as encompassing more than the abortion struggle is "disengenuous and dangerous to our efforts to protect the lives of unborn children."They go on to assert that “the term pro-life originated historically in the struggle to end abortion on demand and continues to be used in public discourse overwhelmingly in that sense. To ignore that is at best sloppy communication and at worst intentional deception. The life in pro-life denotes not quality of life but life itself. The term denotes opposition to a procedure that intentionally results in dead babies.” [emphasis in original]

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.  

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post. Thank you. In addition to JPII is the current pontiff, who speaks of the "link" between the dignity of the human person and the natural environment. Certainly, a link is not an equivalency, nor is it a dividing wall.

    For my argument about the benefit of ecology to help spread the Gospel of Life -- and so help end abortion -- see my blog post on the issue: