More than 39 years after Roe v. Wade, the pro-life movement has reached a nadir. Despite the fact that over half the country self-identifies as “pro-life,” little tangible progress has been made in the fight against abortion. This is due to both the pro-life movement’s failure to be a consistent defender of human dignity across a broader range of issues and to its increasingly close association with the Republican Party.
The GOP is often described as America’s pro-life political party. In reality, however, the GOP isn’t pro-life. At best, it’s merely anti-abortion. At worst, it’s simply misogynistic. Regardless, the Republican Party’s concern for human dignity ends the moment someone is actually born. After that, it’s the coldness and cruelty of Ayn Rand and social Darwinism, all the way down.
This difference goes to the heart of the crisis facing the pro-life movement. Opposing abortion, by itself, does not make someone pro-life- the two are not synonymous. One cannot be authentically pro-life and remain indifferent to the fate of the poor or to other social, economic, and environmental justice concerns.
This makes it (or more properly, ought to make it) difficult to be both pro-life, and a supporter of the modern Republican Party.
First and foremost, Republican fiscal and economic policies would probably make abortion more prevalent by exacerbating its root causes. The GOP’s desire to take a chainsaw to the social contract and reduce the deficit by eviscerating programs that serve the most vulnerable and powerless members of society- like WIC, a favorite target of Congressman Paul Ryan’s- would put additional pressure on women already facing difficult choices. The GOP agenda would make motherhood tantamount to a life sentence in endemic poverty, with little support, for far too many women.
In addition, over the past two years Congressional Republicans have worked relentlessly to weaken or eliminate important environmental and public health protections- subordinating human lives to corporate profits.
For example, the particulate emissions from America’s coal-fired power plants kill roughly 13,000 people annually. And yet the coal industry’s most loyal defenders are Congressional Republicans. Indeed, ostensibly pro-life Republicans led the unsuccessful fight against a new more restrictive mercury emissions rule proposed by the EPA, despite the fact that mercury is a major threat to fetal health and development. They have even targeted the landmark Clean Air Act, a statute credited with saving thousands of lives by reducing pollution levels.
The GOP fails to demonstrate a concern for human dignity in other ways. Its rhetoric consistently demonizes and dehumanizes illegal immigrants, people on public assistance, and other opponents. It also supports the death penalty. Indeed, during the Republican presidential primary, debate audiences loudly cheered for capital punishment and for letting uninsured Americans die, demonstrating a level of cruelty and viciousness completely inconsistent with a true pro-life ethic. And then there are the dead in our endless, Republican-supported, wars abroad.
Are they not persons, too?
In truth, the GOP has made cynical use of abortion to mobilize its base and distract attention from its unappealing economic policies. Beholden to the wealthy, the GOP, like an experienced matador, waves the “red cape” of abortion in front of single-issues voter “bulls” fooling them into blindly charging each election cycle.
In this way, an agenda contrary to the common good and the general welfare has been steadily advanced from year to year.
After a culture war lasting almost four decades, our public life, and much of the rest of our society, is in ruins. And the only ones who have benefited are the profiteers.
Today, in the face of economic, social, and ecological challenges, increasing polarization, and expanding inequality, America needs a pro-life movement committed to defending human dignity across all policy areas- a “whole life” approach similar to the consistent life ethic articulated by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. Such a movement would recognize the relationship between abortion and other forms of injustice and exploitation in society, all of which are offenses against the dignity of the human person, without drawing a moral equivalency between them.
In the end, abortion is a question of fundamental social justice, not personal righteousness. If we want to reduce the prevalence of abortion, or even eliminate it, then we must attack its root causes- chronic poverty, hopelessness, systemic barriers to equality and access to opportunity, and a disordered form of extreme individualism endemic throughout our culture.
And that’s something the Republican Party will never be able, or willing, to do.
Michael Stafford is a former Republican Party officer and the author of “An Upward Calling.” Michael can be reached at email@example.com