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Issue Date:  January 21, 2005

Can opponents of abortion and SOA make common cause?


Having been to both the March for Life and the School of the Americas demonstration, I am convinced now more than ever that we need a new demonstration -- the Consistent Ethic of Life March.

The date for this march, you ask? I can’t think of a better date than every Nov. 14. This is the “feast day” of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, the archbishop of Chicago who died on that day in 1996. It was he who began to articulate an ethic based upon the image of a seamless garment -- a consistent ethic of life that sought to protect life from womb to tomb.

As I have witnessed, those in the March for Life are dismissed as insensitive fundamentalists and crazy conservatives who care too much for fetuses and too little about children and life outside the womb. Likewise, those at the School of the Americas are scoffed at as naive peaceniks and rabid revolutionaries who are blind to the realities of the world and who care not for the most innocent among us.

I remember the first time I went to Washington for the March for Life. It was in the late ’90s, after the first Gulf War. As they had since the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize abortion Jan. 22, 1973, thousands of people united in the cause of outlawing abortion. Images of fetuses and young babies were everywhere. One particular image remains, however. Snaking through the crowds was a lone man carrying a sign: “I’m against abortion and Iraqi sanctions.” It stuck out like a sore thumb.

I, too, believe that abortion -- the taking of innocent life from those most vulnerable -- is the fundamental and foundational human life issue. What makes me uncomfortable about the March for Life, scheduled this year for Jan. 24, is that its tone is more antiabortion than pro-life.

I recently returned from the School of the Americas, and a couple of scenes from that trip also stand out.

The first one happened the evening we arrived in Columbus, Ga., which is near Fort Benning (the military base on which sits the School of the Americas). Part of the group we traveled with was staying at another hotel close by. As the young women were checking in, soldiers in the parking lot began to harass them. “What are you doing here?” “Are you going to protest the SOA?” It reached the point where the chaperone didn’t feel comfortable staying at that hotel and was able to arrange some rooms where we were staying. At breakfast the next morning, one of the young ladies said, “I’ve never felt threatened by the military before.”

“It’s worse than that,” their moderator replied. “The military felt threatened by you.”

Later that afternoon, we went to a staging area right outside the base. Police ringed the perimeters of the area. Resting for a moment, I heard a policewoman remark in disbelief, “I think I see someone from my church. Oh my God!” Another officer standing beside her added, “It doesn’t mean you have to talk to her.” Surveying the crowd, a man who was against the demonstration remarked to a friend, “I’m here to see the freak show.”

Bringing abortion and war along with other life issues (poverty, death penalty, euthanasia, health care, environment) together in a Consistent Ethic of Life March has the potential to bring together two groups that appear to be at opposite ends of the church and the social and moral debate in our country. I think Cardinal Bernardin would be pleased. As the organizer of the Catholic Common Ground Project, he was at heart a reconciler.

The foundation for the consistent life ethic is best summarized in Bernardin’s Gannon Lecture, given at Fordham University on Dec. 6, 1983. He said then:

“If one contends, as we do, that the right of every fetus to be born should be protected by civil law and supported by civil consensus, then our moral, political and economic responsibilities do not stop at the moment of birth. Those who defend the right to life of the weakest among us must be equally visible in support of the quality of life of the powerless among us: the old and the young, the hungry and the homeless, the undocumented immigrant and the unemployed worker. Such a quality of life posture translates into specific political and economic positions on tax policy, employment generation, welfare policy, nutrition and feeding programs, and health care.”

What an amazing sight it would be to see young and old, male and female, religious and lay, black and white, yellow and brown, conservative and liberal -- all marching on behalf of a consistent ethic of life. What a church! What a witness! What unrealized potential!

Let’s start planning.

Mike Daley teaches theology at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati.

National Catholic Reporter, January 21, 2005

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