“Those that proclaim themselves to be the sole measure of realities and of truth cannot live peacefully in society with their fellow men and cooperate with them.”
—Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church
The last few weeks have been filled with angry people aligning with pro-choice versus gloating people aligning with pro-choice. I hate both terms. They do little to describe what many of the people in the groups actually want. Pro-life is associated with people that want to end abortion, but many if not most of those people have little use for programs that support women before, during, and after pregnancy. In fact, some propose the death penalty for people that perform abortions or life in prison. Likewise, some people that are pro-choice only mean as it relates to women’s choices about their bodies. They frequently are not in favor of choice about such things as school choice or open carry laws for guns.
It would seem obvious that human life is sacred and that there is inherent dignity in all humans. However, a quick look at public policy, media, and even individual human actions reveal that it is not at all obvious that life is treated as sacred or that there is inherent dignity in all humans. One only needs to ask what it means to respect life and a heated debate may ensue with all parties proclaiming to be the sole holder of truth. Most such discussions never proceed beyond abortion, the death penalty, war, and guns. Recently, I have seen more people add LGBTQ+ as an issue where no one can hear the other and where some brave soles like James Martin, SJ proclaim it to be a life issue and especially in countries where you can be executed for being same-sex relations.
When asked what is human dignity, a frequently provided answer is the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. No, it was not a question about the Declaration of Independence. Yet, it appears that the representatives that signed the declaration understood human dignity and its foundation in our creation in the likeness of God, in stating, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Why then is this not part of the intellectual reasoning process when discussing these issues among friends, family, and colleagues and in public policy? And, why for our entire history have we failed to live up to these words in the Declaration of Independence?
As we approach challenges to Roe v. Wade, let us consider life. Life is a right. Unfortunately, it is a right that we appear not to value as a society and a right for which we too frequently fail to give meaningful thought. Here are a few areas where there is significant disagreement, and where life is either not treated as a right, or the issue gets inadequate attention.
- Culture of violence in video games, movies, and music
- Death penalty
- Domestic violence
- Drug, alcohol, and substance use
- Health care & mental health care- inadequate
- Sex trafficking
- Violence (rape, hate crimes, child sex abuse, etc.)
All of these either prevent, end, shorten, or seriously impact life or the quality of life. There is no public consensus on how to address any of these issues. Imagine what would be said if there was a gun law passed as restrictive as the Georgia or Missouri abortion laws. Imagine making it a crime to release a person from the hospital when you know they have no home and will be living on the streets. Imagine a 95-year sentence for the health care provider that over-prescribed opioids resulting in addiction and an overdose.
The next time someone asks you if you are pro-life be sure to consider whether life is sacred and whether it is the foundation of your moral vision of society. We can only protect human dignity and have a healthy community if we protect human rights and fulfill our responsibilities to each other. We cannot shrug off poverty because it will always exist and ignore our responsibility to the poor and claim to be pro-life. We cannot justify rape because the vagina was not ripped to shreds or it was “consensual” and claim to be pro-life. We cannot let our children be murdered or sexually assaulted (or cover up the same in our churches) and claim to be pro-life. We cannot turn a blind eye to sex-trafficking and claim to be pro-life. We cannot fulfill our responsibility without first recognizing the value of sharing ideas, cooperating to advance policy that supports human dignity, and admitting that no one individual is the sole purveyor of truth.
As some states march toward an essential ban on abortion consider whether abortion is blinding us to all other aspects of life and human dignity and whether a sole focus on protecting the unborn has resulted in public policy that ignores the threats to life that are all around us. Likewise, consider whether treating abortion as a bad decision made under difficult circumstances would impact our approach to human dignity in other areas. Advancing the cause of human dignity in public discourse requires us to fulfill our responsibilities and that must begin by listening to other people and hearing those perspectives with an open mind. Maybe we would be more successful if we became pro-human dignity.