by James R. Kelly
James R. Kelly is a professor emeritus of sociology at Fordham University.
Susan Bevan and Susan Cullman, co-chairwomen of the political action committee Republican Majority for Choice, wrote a much commented-on op-ed in the June 24 New York Times entitled “Why We Are Leaving the G.O.P.” For their abandoned party, for the upcoming elections, and for responsible thinking about abortion, I thought it highly significant that Bevan and Cullman never ask the key political question, “Why did the Republican Party come to support opposition to abortion in the first place?”
The Republican Pro-abortion Tradition
After all, Ronald Reagan brought legal abortion to California when he was governor, Nelson Rockefeller did the same in New York, Barry Goldwater became an outspoken advocate for abortion, and Donald Trump’s anti-abortion advocacy (let’s be civil here) is belated. Meanwhile, the first political allies for abortion opponents (just check the congressional record) were mostly Democrats.
After all, support for legal abortion is utterly congruent with Republican fiscal conservatism, which includes a plethora of positions dovetailing with access to completely legal abortion, such as unrestricted economic markets, limited federal regulation, limited government interference in business, and no support for families that have children they can’t afford.
Why the Change?
Let’s succinctly answer the unasked Bevan-Cullman question: Republican fiscal conservatism loses elections; social conservatism wins elections.
Republican fiscal conservatives can’t win elections unless they attract the votes of the non-wealthy, who are more likely to be social conservatives who think that the government has responsibilities to contribute to the common good. This includes the needs of family and children for health care, schooling, job training, and support for those with disabilities.
We’ll soon see if fake social conservatism can continue to win elections. As our history teachers insisted, if we don’t remember the past we won’t understand the present. So, let’s do a brief memory check of the contemporary abortion wars.
The pro-life movement’s initial post-Roe v. Wade political hopes resided largely with the Democratic Party, which included a disproportionate number of Roman Catholics. Ellen McCormack, the housewife leader of the Long Island, NY, “Women for the Unborn” ran a knowingly quixotic 1975 campaign for president in twenty Democratic state primaries. Regarding abortion opposition, the Republicans were politically passive but also politically attentive to the fact that powerful grassroots mobilization contesting legal abortion had outlasted the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.
Among his presidential campaign promises Ronald Reagan included efforts to reverse Roe. The Republican elite was not pleased. In her 1996 “insider’s” account of this period, The Republican War Against Women, Tanya Melich reports that the 1976 Republican Convention delegate vote to include an anti-Roe constitutional amendment in the party platform was scheduled after midnight, with debate limited to four speakers. There was no state roll-call on the proposed amendment. The convention chairman, John Rhodes, called for a voice vote and then immediately declared Convention approval for the unlikely Republican position of reversing legal abortion, thus conflicting with what all previous polls of Republican voters and donors had shown, namely that fiscal conservatives are overwhelmingly social liberals, conjoining unrestricted legal abortion with free trade and consumer choice.
It’s the opposite with social conservatives. Polls have shown that the second most common reason women give for abortion is that they can’t afford the baby. It’s harder to welcome new life when life itself seems unwelcoming to parents if they face cuts to medical care, growing economic inequality, and job insecurity. It’s significant that the subgroup with the highest abortion rate is also the subgroup with the highest rates of disapproval of abortion – Black Americans.
Although for most Republican office seekers the best abortion word is “mum,” prominent pro-choice Republicans abound – think Arnold Schwarzenegger, Christine Todd Whitman, George Pataki, and the never-fully-disappeared Rudy Giuliani.
Republican Party fiscal conservatives can be expected to continue to attract the votes of working class and lower-middle class moral traditionalists – the “Reagan Democrats” the Party sorely needs. However—and this is key—they can do this only by supporting moral-social issue positions that require no appreciable tax revenues, such as school prayer, the teaching of creationism, and the promotion of conservative Supreme Court justices.
Where Are We Now?
Let’s look at the now-dominant issue of the future Supreme Court. At first glance it would seem that President Trump’s opportunity to replace retiring Anthony Kennedy with Brett Kavanaugh, a fifth conservative judge, thereby making it possible (though not inevitable) to reverse Roe v. Wade, will ensure that a significant number of “Reagan Democrats” vote for the party Bevan and Cullman have abandoned. But politics is tricky, especially Republican abortion politics. So, let’s give some space to another insider’s revealing account of Reagan’s not-so-exemplary fidelity to his campaign promises to oppose abortion.
Douglas W. Kmiec directed the Office of Legal Counsel during the first Regan administration, and he observed that while the Justice Department contested Roe’s extension of the privacy doctrine to abortion and promoted a state’s right to protect the unborn after viability, the Reagan administration briefs never explicitly challenged a right to legal abortion (detailed in Kmiec’s 1992 book, The Attorney General’s Lawyer). Here’s why: Kmiec recalls that on numerous occasions he was unsuccessful in persuading the Reagan Justice Department briefs to use the term “prenatal life,” rather than using the Roe Court’s phrase “potential life.” Kmiec ruefully recalled that his effort to explicitly raise this core right to life principle in the Reagan administration’s Supreme Court abortion law interventions resulted only in finding himself “out of the loop.”
While Kmiec’s account is complicated, it again shows the altogether simple point that social conservatives can’t trust fiscal conservatives to embrace their pro-life aspirations to help women bravely choose life rather than abortion. Both hard empirical facts and prayerful hopes point to the efforts of the just over 20-years-old Democrats for Life of America to win back the Reagan Democrats and to the even more central efforts of the Consistent Life Network.
The stakes are high, and not just for this year’s midterm election. The effort to continuously challenge American society, to grasp the connections among the violence of abortion and the violence of poverty, and the violence of war, will take several generations.
For more of our blog posts from Jim Kelly, see:
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by Rachel MacNair
We’re aware of people whose hearts sincerely ache at the killing of unborn children, and who take action to educate about the horrors of abortion and otherwise try to prevent it, who ask: if PP is a major provider of contraception, and this prevents pregnancies, doesn’t PP therefore prevent abortions? PP certainly declares so.
Many consistent-life sympathizers are most familiar with the peace and social justice movements, and PP advertises its views in these movements’ venues quite effectively. So we have sympathizers who wonder if cutting off funds to PP wouldn’t actually increase abortions, as PP claims.
One point is that re-allocating the funds elsewhere, as opposed to simply cutting them off, helps address this concern. We at the Consistent Life Network are working on this directly with our campaign of finding good health-care alternatives already available near each specific PP location, and where those are insufficient, encouraging pro-lifers to think of establishing such alternatives or improving those available.
Yet there’s more to the story.
Is PP a Major Provider of Family Planning?
PP currently has roughly 600 locations in the United States, according to the listings on their own website.
So PP’s contribution is relatively small. If the federal taxpayer money spent on PP were spent elsewhere, there’s plenty of elsewhere to spend it.
The major sources of PP’s taxpayer funding are Title X and Medicaid. Title X family planning grants go to different medical centers to help them provide family planning. Medicaid pays directly for services received at whatever eligible place the patient chooses to go. Most Title X grants and Medicaid payments right now go to medical facilities not associated with PP.
(If you’ve heard a higher figure for how many PP centers there are, other figures are outdated. In 2017 alone, PP centers had a rush of closings – 32 closed, mainly in rural areas, with 5 opened, mainly in large urban areas.)
Is PP a Major Provider of Women’s Health Care?
Here’s a statistic for pap smears, and other forms of medical care have similar ratios:
More than this, though – PP’s women’s health services have been dramatically declining in recent years:
Graphic from screenshots of video: Le$$ Care, No Matter What
For recently updated figures, see their new chart/fact sheet.
PP’s Abortion Priority
Of the roughly 600 PP locations, around 350 do surgical abortions – as listed on their own website; they don’t list which ones do chemical abortions. Though sources differ on how many abortion clinics there are overall in the U.S., we know there are well under a thousand. So we know that, unlike their small share of contraception availability, PP is responsible for a very large portion of abortion availability.
The remaining 250 PP centers all refer for abortions – to the nearby PP abortion center within their own “affiliate” (set by region). All affiliates have at least one surgical abortion center. PP is also promoting chemical abortions.
PP is a major political force for abortion. Money is fungible, and any they get from taxpayers will end up in abortion advocacy indirectly. The pro-life movement is at a major disadvantage in its work because of this huge behemoth getting millions of dollars.
PP pushes abortion internationally, too.
But, Still – Doesn’t PP’s Contraception Work Lower Abortion?
Not according to any empirical studies; see Chapter 16 of Peace Psychology Perspective on Abortion, which covers studies and explanations for why they turn out the way they do.
The figures PP cites are just speculative projections based on how much contraception they dispensed. They don’t offer controlled experiments to back up their case.
There’s also a piece of possible contrary evidence. A natural experiment (where no one set out to do an experiment, yet the conditions for one are in place) comes from the Texas Panhandle, At first, Planned Parenthood facilities operated there on a large scale. In 1999, five of its facilities closed; in 2001, seven more. Four more shut down later, so by 2008, none remained in the Texas Panhandle. If you check out Table 14B of Texas statistics of teenage pregnancies, you can see that in PP’s absence, the teenage pregnancy rate went down.
That doesn’t really bear on the direct impact of contraception on abortion, which is a much more complicated question. But it bears on PP’s approach to promoting contraception, at least to the 13-17 year age group.
There’s no published empirical evidence of PP’s effectiveness. There’s some evidence it could at least at times be counterproductive.
Yet – Don’t They Still Provide Some Good and Needed Services?
Carol Crossed responds to this question:
I like to use the argument about the Nestlé boycott. We received all sorts of angst from those who believed that Nestlé provided good products (which they did) and provided good jobs (which they did). The same can be said of any boycott, any government, any targeting of a capitalistic business. Their evil is disguised by the good they do.
In PP’s case, the violence is so egregious that it dwarfs what might be good services. It’s not simply that PP is the largest chain of abortion clinics in the US and a major abortion promoter globally. Former PP workers have brought to light how much abortion is PP’s best money-maker. See these articles from CLN board member Sarah Terzo:
Even worse, see this May, 2018 report:
Planned Parenthood’s Cover-up of Child Sexual Abuse.
PP is the Walmart of abortion clinics, and every bit as inclined to assure us of the goodness of their products as the tobacco industry is. Accordingly, I think their claims should be examined carefully, and not taken at face value.
For other posts addressing questions on abortion from a consistent-life view, see:
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There’s been an outpouring of outrage over the policy of separating young children from their parents who have crossed the United States southern border without US government permission. Another recent policy is to restrict asylum-seekers and deny asylum for women suffering from domestic abuse, which is also commented on in the remarks below.
We include below a few excerpts, with links to the full statements or articles, from Consistent Life Network member groups, endorsers, and others.
Consistent Life Network isn’t a religious organization, though many of our member groups are. We hope atheists and people from other religions can appreciate the analogies to religious stories as poetic images and cultural references, particularly relevant when officials proposing the policies are quoting the Bible in their rhetoric.
Pax Christi USA
June 15, 2015
The detention centers are concentration camps, separating children from their parents and keeping children indoors for 22 hours a day is torture, and rejecting asylum seekers is a death sentence.
Immigrants are human beings. Never is it acceptable to separate families and keep parents and children from knowing where the other is being detained.
Red Letter Christians
by Jennifer Butler, June 9, 2018
Right now, the Trump Administration is using child separation to punish parents who courageously seek to protect their children from dire threats in their native lands. These children have already faced trauma most of us cannot imagine. Separating children as young as infants and toddlers will carry with it emotional scars that have long reaching effects on their lives. Threatening and harming children, say many, is tantamount to torture.
Like the United Nations, people of faith must also condemn a policy that punishes children for their parents’ attempts to protect them.
Evangelicals for Social Action
by Hannah Shanks, June 19, 2008
I know the mothers at the border.
I know them because they could be me in an instant, should my home turn violent, should my home be bombed, should my country fall to despotism.
I know them, too, because they are in my Christian Scriptures. They are Mary and Jocheved—mother of Jesus, mother of Moses. Mary, whose family fled to the desert to escape the command of Herod, who demanded that the children of Israel be slaughtered to maintain his power. Jocheved, who knew that her child was no longer safe in her arms due to the command of Pharaoh, who demanded that the children of Israel be slaughtered to maintain his power.
Perhaps you, too, see a theme here. Men in power, leading nations whose grasp on wealth was predicated on the oppression and terrorization of the marginalized in their midst, were afraid of children. And they mobilized their forces against those children.
Children, deemed a threat.
Children, kept in cages.
Children, forcibly removed from their parents.
. . .
The mothers at the border are named Jocheved.
Pharaoh has issued his decree.
We know the outcome of this story, dear ones.
We know who we are called to be.
Samuel Rodriguez, Endorser
Letter signed by Samuel Rodriguez and other prominent evangelicals
As evangelical Christians guided by the Bible, one of our core convictions is that God has established the family as the fundamental building block of society. The state should separate families only in the rarest of instances. While illegal entry to the United States can be a misdemeanor criminal violation, past administrations have exercised discretion in determining when to charge individuals with this offense, taking into account the wellbeing of children who may also be involved. A “zero tolerance” policy removes that discretion—with the effect of removing even small children from their parents. The traumatic effects of this separation on these young children, which could be devastating and long-lasting, are of utmost concern.
US Conference of Catholic Bishops
A Statement from Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, June 13, 2018
At its core, asylum is an instrument to preserve the right to life. The Attorney General’s recent decision elicits deep concern because it potentially strips asylum from many women who lack adequate protection. These vulnerable women will now face return to the extreme dangers of domestic violence in their home country. This decision negates decades of precedents that have provided protection to women fleeing domestic violence. Unless overturned, the decision will erode the capacity of asylum to save lives, particularly in cases that involve asylum seekers who are persecuted by private actors. We urge courts and policy makers to respect and enhance, not erode, the potential of our asylum system to preserve and protect the right to life.
Additionally, I join Bishop Joe Vásquez, Chairman of USCCB’s Committee on Migration, in condemning the continued use of family separation at the U.S./Mexico border as an implementation of the Administration’s zero tolerance policy. Our government has the discretion in our laws to ensure that young children are not separated from their parents and exposed to irreparable harm and trauma. Families are the foundational element of our society and they must be able to stay together. While protecting our borders is important, we can and must do better as a government, and as a society, to find other ways to ensure that safety. Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral.
(two of three verses; sung to the tune of “O Sacred Head Now Wounded; see with music)
by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, June 12, 2018
When Jesus went to Egypt,
Safe on his mother’s arm,
His parents stayed beside him
To keep him safe from harm.
And when they crossed the border,
They were allowed to be
Together – seeking refuge –
A Holy Family.
O God, we pray for children
And families coming here
Now facing separation,
And filled with grief and fear.
For children, loved and treasured,
Are ripped from loving kin.
This deed, by any measure,
Is torture. It’s a sin!
Text: Copyright © June 2018 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org New Hymns: www.carolynshymns.com
Permission is given for free use of this hymn to churches seeking to support Sojourners and immigrant families. Please share this hymn with others. Thank you.
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by Rob Arner
First, if there’s anything we know, we know where Martin Luther King Jr. stood on racism and poverty – for all of his public life. We know that he came out strongly against war as well, toward the end of his public career. And we know that he saw the three as connected.
His stand on the death penalty wasn’t so prominent, but in his “Advice for Living” column in Ebony magazine, this from the November 1957 issue:
I do not think God approves the death penalty for any crime—rape and murder included. God’s concern is to improve individuals and bring them to the point of conversion. Even criminology has repudiated the motive of punishment in favor of the reformation of the criminal. Shall a good God harbor resentment? Since the purpose of jailing a criminal is that of reformation rather than retribution—improving him rather than paying him back for some crime that he has done—it is highly inconsistent to take the life of a criminal. How can he improve if his life is taken? Capital punishment is against the best judgment of modern criminology and, above all, against the highest expression of love in the nature of God.
But abortion? Because King was murdered in 1968, nearly five years before Roe v. Wade struck down all U.S. state laws banning abortions, he never lived in a post-Roe world. Whether King would have supported or opposed the legalization of abortion is a hotly debated question.
Hilary Shelton, Washington bureau director and senior vice president for advocacy for the NAACP, said that he believed King would have supported “a woman’s right to control her reproductive life . . . What I know of Dr. King’s vision is Dr. King held a very strong position that didn’t speak to the issue of abortion at all. You can try to read into it if you like, but his position was that women should have control of their reproductive lives” (August 25, 2010 interview on CNS News).
King’s family members fall on very different sides. King’s wife Coretta Scott King was well-known as a supporter of abortion in her later years, and says though they never discussed it explicitly, she believes King would have agreed with her. But another side of King’s family, led by King’s niece Alveda King, argues King’s profound words of respect for personhood and human dignity would place him within the pro-life movement had he lived to see its rise. Alveda argues that Coretta “knew that her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was pro-life” with respect to abortion, even though Coretta herself was not. MLK himself, according to Alveda, was pro-life, a stance she says was “supported fully by everything he always said” (the same August 25, 2010 interview on CNS News).
But what did King himself say? The facts are difficult to discern. He doesn’t use the word “abortion” in any of his published books or articles, nor in the six volumes of his published papers, or anywhere yet found by King scholars. Nor, according to my research, does he clearly discuss the subject at all. In all likelihood, he never had occasion to opine publically because, as far as researchers can tell, he was never asked. The public debate over the issue was still years in the future.
The one possible exception may be in his June 1958 “Advice for Living” column in Ebony. King was asked by a young man, “About two years ago, I was going with a young lady who became pregnant. I refused to marry her. As a result, I was directly responsible for a crime. It was not until a month later that I realized the awful thing I had done. I begged her to forgive me, to come back, but she has not answered my letters. The thing stays on my mind. What can I do? I have prayed for forgiveness.”
King’s pastoral reply makes no explicit mention of an abortion, instead speaking of forgiveness in general terms: “You have made a mistake. This you admit. Your admitting this fact is very wholesome, for it is the first step in the process of repentance and personality integration. . . . This sense of penitence and this creative living will do more to cause the young lady to forgive you than anything you can say in words.”
King is known to have had an affiliation with Planned Parenthood, which is known today as the largest abortion provider in the United States. But this doesn’t indicate support for abortion because for the duration of King’s affiliation, Planned Parenthood was itself opposed to abortion.
One related subject on which King definitely had an opinion was birth control, a topic increasing in the public eye, especially after the birth control pill was introduced in 1960. In his discussion of poverty, King was concerned, as were many thinkers in the mid-20th century, about excessive population, and the resulting competition for finite resources leading to violence and unnecessary human suffering. In his December 1957 “Advice for Living” column, he fielded a question from a woman who was pregnant with her eighth child and mentioned practicing birth control to her husband, but her husband told her artificial birth control is sinful— God would stop them from having children when they had enough. King replies:
I do not think it is correct to argue that birth control is sinful. It is a serious mistake to suppose that it is a religious act to allow nature to have its way in the sex life . . . A final consideration is that women must be considered as more than “breeding machines.” It is true that the primary obligation of the woman is that of motherhood, but an intelligent mother wants it to be a responsible motherhood— a motherhood to which she has given her consent, not a motherhood due to impulse and to chance. And this means birth control in some form.
But King didn’t believe that just indiscriminately handing out condoms and birth control pills was the best answer. Rather, characteristically for the way King’s moral mind worked in seeing the big picture, he connected the issues of birth control with economic justice, maintaining that the underlying issues of poverty and lack of resources needed to be addressed before people would even consider having a smaller family.
The debate over King’s stance on abortion is therefore ultimately inconclusive, given the paucity of evidence. There’s too little evidence to conclude decisively what King’s attitude toward abortion would have been.
Though it makes the most sense to me after my study of King to think that rather than supporting easy access to abortions, he would have instead sought more community-based solutions, such as well-funded pregnancy resource centers, or advocating that government mandate free or reduced-cost childcare for poor working mothers and require that workplaces accommodate women’s maternity and their needs in raising children. These are methods that respect the inherent dignity of both born and unborn children and their mothers. I must ultimately admit that I don’t know for certain what King would have done, and that given the current state of available evidence, such knowledge is impossible.
However I do know that Martin Luther King, Jr. believed deeply in what he called “the sacredness of all human personality,” that all human lives have inestimable value. Given his absolute convictions about nonviolence, it stretches my imagination to believe that King ever would have been a supporter of abortion’s violence.
For more of our blog posts on notable people in history, see:
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by Kristin Monahan
I compare abortion and animal farming/exploitation.
Similarities between Veganism and Pro-lifeism
- Both are centered around the idea of respecting life, especially that of the particularly innocent, vulnerable, voiceless, helpless, and defenseless.
- Concern for the right to life is present in both. With pro-lifeism, the unborn child is being killed, so the focus is on the child’s right not to be killed and to continue her or his life. With veganism, animals are being killed, so the focus is on the animals’ right not to be killed and to continue their lives.
- Concern for the rights not to be harmed and to bodily autonomy, as well as the right not to be seen as property to be disposed of as someone else sees fit, is present in both. In abortions, children are dismembered with medical tools or sucked apart or poisoned. This harms them and takes away their bodily autonomy as their bodies are being destroyed. They are considered their parents’ property, and disposed of at the will of their parents. With animal farming/consuming/exploiting, there are many different ways the bodies of animals are harmed and their bodily autonomy is taken away as they are treated as objects. Animal abuse includes being beaten over the head in some factory farms, the stress of being artificially inseminated and having to give birth, being constantly milked, or going through training in circuses. Animals are literally considered the property of farmers and are at the will of those who farm them, train them, or are otherwise considered their owners.
- Both point out that if people can’t stand to look at gruesome pictures (abortion pictures/slaughterhouse pictures) of the end result of supporting the killing on unborn children and animals, then they shouldn’t be supporting the killing in the first place. If one finds the pictures offensive then you are saying that something you support is offensive — so why are you supporting it?
- Both see the mass killing happening right before our eyes and understand it as prejudice and oppression. Both have trouble understanding why after learning our lesson about past oppression, we continue with these present ones. Some on each side make comparisons to the Holocaust, slavery and racism.
- Both mention that abortion or animal consuming/using aren’t necessary and talk about other options. Why should we go out of our way to cause death and destruction when we don’t have to?For abortion, there’s adoption (open, closed, or semi-open); safe-haven/safe-surrender/baby-Moses laws which let you leave the child at any police station, hospital, or fire department, no questions asked; kinship care or guardianship care giving the child to a family member or close friend to be raised, long-term or short-term; or a ton of options for help if the woman thinks she can be a parent, such as financial help, daycare, baby drives, housing, rights for pregnant women in school or workplace and things to make having babies easier such as desks that fit the stomachs of pregnant women or set-ups for her to work or learn from home. There’s also talk of artificial wombs.With veganism, there’s a vegan version of everything. There are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of edible plants that we have discovered so far. If it’s possible to make it vegan, someone has probably created it. There are tons of vegan options at every store and you can veganize fast food meals as well. Those who are poor, as many of us are, can be vegan. There are vegan leathers and soaps and so on.
- Concern for the right to continue living so as to continue to use other rights and choices is present in both. Pro-lifers often talk about how the most important right is the right to life, as all other rights would be meaningless without being alive to use them. Vegans often point out that animals are here for their own reasons, just like us, to have their own lives and do their own things. They aren’t here to be objects for the use of humans.
Similarities between Non-veganism and Pro-choiceism
- Both use a “choice” argument, forget the victim and their choices, and act like the perpetrator needs to have a choice to harm the victim. With animal using and consuming, they think the ones partaking in the use or consumption need to have a choice. Often you’ll hear something like, “It’s my choice to eat meat. You can’t infringe on other people’s choices. If you don’t eat meat, that’s your choice, but you can’t tell me what to do.” With abortion it’s the same, the mother getting to choose to take her unborn child to a facility to be dismembered and killed. “It’s my choice. You can’t infringe on other people’s choices. If you wouldn’t get an abortion, that’s your choice, but you can’t tell me what to do.”
- Similarly, both focus on the bodies of those committing the killing or harming instead of the bodies of the victims and act as if disregarding the victim’s bodily autonomy is the bodily right of another. For abortion, “It’s my body, my choice,” and sometimes “If it’s in my body, I can kill it.” For animal consuming/wearing, “It’s my body, my choice. I get to choose what goes in/on my body.” Both actions require harming and killing someone else’s body, but only the bodies of the ones doing said harming will ever be paid attention. Forgetting the victim and acting as if the other side is in the wrong because they’re infringing on the rights of those taking away the rights of others is an old way to pass off discrimination.
- Both use overpopulation as an excuse to kill the victims. With abortion, they say humans are overpopulated and thus we shouldn’t have anymore—and also that we should spare children life in the overpopulated world. With animal consuming/using, they say animals are overpopulated so we need to kill them so that their overpopulation doesn’t get in our way.
- Both use qualities such as sentience, consciousness, intelligence, and size to belittle victims and excuse killing and harming. They say those yet to be born can’t feel pain, aren’t conscious, aren’t intelligent, or are so small. This therefore makes them lesser than us, so we can kill them. They say those of other species can’t feel pain (the classic “fish don’t feel pain” myth for example), aren’t conscious, aren’t intelligent, animals like insects are so small. This therefore makes them lesser than us,. so we can kill them.Both arguments not only are incorrect for—at the very least—some of humans yet to be born and some animals but also forget that many born humans, such as infants, other children, and those along the wide spectrum of disabilities and diseases, who also fall in those categories yet who still have a right to life. How can you argue that if one isn’t intelligent, they can be killed, if you understand that a born human who is mentally challenged needs even more protection than the average person? Their argument is a “might makes right” attitude. “I’m bigger than you/smarter than you, and I can kill you because you have fewer abilities than I do, so I should be allowed to have that choice.”
Discriminating against a group based on their abilities—ableism—is another classic way to discriminate and is closely tied to eugenics. You have to look at someone’s differences and pretend that makes you better to get people to successfully oppress a group. For the unborn this process is dehumanization. For other animals it’s speciesism.
- Both argue that these practices have been happening for so long, are natural, and that people will still do them even if they’re outlawed. Abortion is ancient, so women will find a way, they say. Animal eating is ancient and is what we need to do, they say. God aborts babies all the time, they say. God put animals on earth for us to use, they say.
- Both try to brush off criticism saying the practice is legal, as if being legal makes something OK, or that a legal practice can never be made illegal.
- Both defend at least some abortion or animal killing/harming because of special circumstances. With abortion, they say “It’s ok if it’s before a certain number of weeks/if the pregnant woman was raped/if the child has a disability,” etc. With animal killing they usually justify eating animals if accompanied by the labels “humane,” “organic,” “grass fed,” “cage free,” or “free range” without realizing the problems with these. Or they justify killing specific animals: “I wouldn’t eat a dog but a pig is different.”
- Ultimately, both look at our differences from the victims rather than our similarities and use that to exert power and control, and to “other” them to the point of death, dismemberment, and exploitation.
For more of our blog posts on similar topics, see:
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Section of Chapter 14: Differing Perspectives on Specific Populations (pages 234-237)
book edited and this chapter written by Rachel M. MacNair
references turned into links
For centuries, when militaries drafted people, some refused on grounds of conscience. In the 20th century, several nations recognized a legal exemption for conscientious objection, generally allowing people to do other service instead. Now there are countries in which doctors, nurses, and midwives who refuse to participate in abortions are losing licenses or jobs.
Global Doctors for Choice funded a supplement issue of the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics devoted to the issue of conscientious objection to abortion. It documents that the world-wide prevalence is extensive, documents harms they understand as arising from this, and argues for a balance for patients’ rights between health workers’ rights.
Reproductive health care is the only field in medicine where freedom of conscience is accepted as an argument to limit a patient’s right to a legal medical treatment. It is the only example where the otherwise accepted standard of evidence-based medicine is overruled by faith-based actions. . . . the exercise of conscientious objection (CO) is a violation of medical ethics because it allows health-care professionals to abuse their position of trust and authority by imposing their personal beliefs on patients. Physicians have a monopoly on the practice of medicine, with patients completely reliant on them for essential health care. Moreover, doctors have chosen a profession that fulfills a public trust, making them duty-bound to provide care without discrimination. This makes CO an arrogant paternalism, with doctors exerting power over their dependent patients—a throwback to the obsolete era of “doctor knows best.”
Denial of care inevitably creates at least some degree of harm to patients, ranging from inconvenience, humiliation, and psychological stress to delays in care, unwanted pregnancy, increased medical risks, and death. Since reproductive health care is largely delivered to women, CO rises to the level of discrimination, undermining women’s self-determination and liberty. CO against providing abortions, in particular, is based on a denial of the overwhelming evidence and historical experience that have proven the harms of legal and other restrictions, a rejection of the human rights ethic that justifies the provision of safe and legal abortion to women, and a refusal to respect democratically decided laws. Allowing CO for abortion also ignores the global realities of poor access to services, pervasive stigma, and restrictive laws. It just restricts access even further, adding to the already serious abrogation of patients’ rights. (Fiala & Arther, 2014b).
A similar argument is made by Ben Rich (2015).
Since the abortion-as-violence perspective is that abortion kills a human being, the analogy to conscientious objection in the military is understood to be quite appropriate.
The entire Global Doctors for Choice special issue only mentions once the actual motivation — and words it as a disagreement on when life begins. This is a very tepid and incomplete way of wording the problem.
Fiala & Arthur [quoted above] assert the motivation is to keep women in their traditional roles as wives and mothers and to produce children to be soldiers and citizens of the state. They cite no documentation of this point. Documentation would be difficult to come by. If found, it would likely be in people other than those risking licenses and losing jobs.
Here we have people considering the topic of conscientious objectors at length, yet they do not offer a forthright account of the CO’s actual motivation. This is not what one would expect of people sincerely trying to understand the phenomenon.
Publicized conscientious objectors:
For more excerpts from Peace Psychology Perspectives on Abortion, see:
Introduction on using multiple perspectives
From Chapter 4, War Causes Abortion
See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.
by Rachel MacNair
While there’s not much you as a consistent life ethic supporter can do with the obstinate, many people who don’t agree with us on life and peace issues are willing to listen to what we have to say.
A lot of questions really require in-depth answers, and when you have the time to provide those, that makes for the most productive discussion. But what about those many occasions when you have a chance to say something, but not very much?
These are responses that I’ve found effective in such situations, so I share them. I’d be delighted if people who have other questions and quick answers share those in the comments below.
Question: What about overpopulation?
If we’re going to kill people to address a strain on the environment, wouldn’t it be more efficient to kill the people causing the problems? Like, say, executives of large polluting corporations? Little babies aren’t the ones causing the problems.
Note: This response of course requires that people understand abortion to be killing. But the question about overpopulation often comes up after you’ve made clear that you think of abortion as killing – raising the question is a way of skirting around the point. We of course aren’t in favor of any killing, efficient or otherwise, but this answer points up the absurdity of suggesting one kind of killing is OK. I had one group I shared this response with immediately turn to talking about how the poor in India weren’t the problem, and while they were expounding, I thought my work was done and headed out.
Question: Do you really think war is never necessary?
If you have a continuum, and on one side you have pacifism and on the other side you have conquest and genocide (I have my hands outstretched to show the two sides),
then on this continuum, “just war” – the notion that war is justified under very strict conditions involving protection of innocents – goes right next to pacifism. (I move one hand from the side to put it right next to the other hand).
Just war is pacifism with exceptions.
Just war advocates deem pacifists naïve to think that there aren’t times when war is occasionally necessary for defense, as a last resort. Pacifists hold that the just war idea is naïve, to think that we can have a disciplined war without things getting out of hand. But really, whenever the just-war criteria are in fact strictly adhered to, either approach would get rid of most of the wars we actually have.
And there are plenty of proactive things we can do for peace that all people of good will agree on, where a just-war/pacifist distinction makes no difference.
Note: Consistent-lifers can be either pacifist or strictly- just-war, so the idea of getting along is already in the consistent-life community. But I used this response several times with conservatives at a National Review conference, and it always made sense to them.
Question: Back Alley Butchers
Richard Mucie in Kansas City was a doctor convicted of manslaughter in the horrific death of a woman from abortion back when it was illegal. His medical license was revoked and he went to prison. Then Roe v. Wade came down. He went to court to get his license back, and set up his abortion clinic, literally on Main Street. Women had no warning of how poor a doctor he was, and they had much less legal recourse when injured.
This is a clear case, but there have been “front-alley” scandals over and over again [mention your local one, or the most recent one].
The problem isn’t with the legal nature of abortion, but with the nature of abortion, period. When a doctor keeps a focus on doing abortions, this is not favorable for providing sensitive care to the mother.
Question from pro-lifers: Doesn’t the Consistent Life Ethic water down the abortion issue?
Response 1: It puts the issue in the context of violence, where it belongs.
Response 2: It gives peace movement people who are inclined to buy the pro-life argument a sense of permission to be pro-life, because it puts the issue in terms that are comfortable for them.
Response 3: It’s common for peace movement people to think in terms of connecting issues, so naturally when peace advocates join the pro-life movement, issue connections is how they’re going to think. Objecting to it would be like objecting to Priests for Life for being too liturgical.
Question from peace and justice activists: Isn’t the Consistent Life Ethic a sneaky way of giving us right-wing propaganda?
You should see how many pro-lifers criticize us as being part of a plot to water down the abortion issue.
See more of our blog posts with lengthier points responding to challenging questions —
Editor’s Note: As usual with our blog, opinions expressed are those of the author only. Our mission statement includes opposition to poverty but doesn’t include the issue of “gun violence.” Our general policy is to accommodate a variety of different strategies—including different laws or public policies—to advance our mission, provided those strategies are nonviolent and honest. Sarah Terzo is on CLN’s board of directors.
by Sarah Terzo
Members of the Consistent Life Network freely decide what public policies to support on issues such as gun control, immigration, and other issues not directly tied to our mission statement. Different members address issues as they see best and, as long as they’re in accord with our mission statement, members often differ in how they see our core issues best addressed.
People have different ways of looking at issues. We don’t always see things in “black and white” terms. While everyone in CLN should oppose “poverty” and “gun violence,” we may have differing views on the best approaches to move forward on those issue. We’re a network including people with different political philosophies and perspectives, united by our common desire to protect people from violence.
I know someone who believes there should be armed guards in schools. To me, that seems like a violence-promoting position. But if you drill down to the reasons why he believes this, you see that his motive is not to increase gun deaths. He feels that armed guards will be able to stop an active shooter situation and save lives or, in the best-case scenario, prevent shootings from happening in the first place His point is that if every would-be school shooter knew the school had armed guards, they would think twice about initiating a school shooting. It would therefore act as a deterrent to school shootings. I disagree because I think this approach will create a climate that will lead to more violence, not less. Yet my friend is not motivated by a desire for more kids to get shot, but by his belief in an alternative way to address the violence.
My friend also cited a case during the 1992 Los Angeles riots where a violent mob attempted to murder a family. The father held them off by firing a machine gun in the air. This caused the attackers to flee and saved the lives of his family. My friend believes guns can sometimes act as deterrents for violence. I disagree with his position strongly. But I would not call him anti-life or pro-violence for his position because that’s not the intent of his position. To say he wants to see dead children is untrue.
People can also legitimately differ in their views on how to address the issue of poverty. Some people feel the government should provide support such as food stamps and housing vouchers to the poor. Personally, I agree, and very strongly. But I have a friend who believes these things should be handled by private charities and doesn’t support such programs. She personally gives a great deal to charity and works in a soup kitchen. She claims that her reason for opposing government programs is because the programs’ bureaucracy and all their rules and regulations cause them to be less efficient – not because she thinks poor people should starve.
I’m very much a supporter of government programs, but even I see some major problems inherent in them. For example, recipients of disability and Medicaid can only have a net worth of $2,000 or they lose their health insurance. The people being helped by this program are getting free health care, but they’re also being trapped in poverty by being unable to save money. They also cannot get a part-time job, many of which do not offer benefits, to improve their finances — because if they make too much, their health insurance is taken away. They are, therefore, forced to remain in poverty and dependent on the government.
I know because this is my exact situation. Many other government programs have similar flaws that actually work against the poor.
I believe these government programs should be overhauled and fixed. My friend thinks they should be replaced. My friend and I aren’t disagreeing that poverty should be alleviated. We’re disagreeing on the method of alleviating it. To say that my friend supports poverty and wants people to starve would be untrue, especially when she’s actively giving of her time and money to help the problem.
What constitutes meaningful opposition to gun violence, poverty, and racism isn’t always clear. It would be untrue to claim that my friend who supports guns in school wants dead children or my friend who thinks charity should replace government programs thinks the poor should starve – even though they take a very different position from mine on how to address the issue.
To take certain positions on issues, even if those positions seem entirely logical to us, and to accuse anyone who doesn’t share those positions as being “anti-life,” may not be a fair or honest characterization. I believe it will work against understanding people with different ideas.
It also will work to demonize people on the “other side” and make it harder for people to work together. In not considering that there could be diverse solutions to problems, we may sow division in a way that is not really necessary based on assumptions that are not accurate.
For this reason, while we may agree on opposing “poverty” or “gun violence,” I think it would be a mistake to expect all members of the Consistent Life Network to support the same legislative solutions. Even if we all do support the same legislative solutions (which may be possible) I think it would be a mistake to make that too a requirement. We don’t expect people to have the same view on how to address problems. We should only expect only that we oppose killing people.
My point is that some positions are obvious (people shouldn’t be executed, we shouldn’t drop bombs) while other aspects of social problems can have alternate solutions about which reasonable people can disagree. We expect people to use their own best judgement on how to resolve complex social issues.
Other CLN blog posts from Sarah Terzo:
See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.
by Rob Arner
Mother’s Day is the singular day when the culture turns its attention to honor the mothers among us – our own, or those whom we admire. It’s nearly impossible to get a table at a nice restaurant to take your mother out without reservations far in advance. Hallmark and other greeting card companies make a killing by selling us $5 cards with sweet poems and flowery pictures on them.
And we all go along, because we all agree our moms are special and that motherhood is a vital role in society with responsibilities that extend well beyond the nine months of pregnancy (and interminable hours of labor!) Mothers are special, and setting aside a day to honor them just makes sense.
But what is the origin of the modern observance of Mother’s Day? Where did it come from? The answer may surprise you, because it comes from a woman of remarkable determination and conviction whose experience of human cruelty caused her to initiate the Mother’s Day movement as a prophetic form of social protest against the savagery of war.
It all goes back to the woman who is most famous for writing the song that became the de facto war anthem of the Union Army during the Civil War: “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Julia Ward Howe, New England socialite and social reformer, was a thoughtful woman of deep moral convictions whose campaigns on behalf of the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, and economic justice are well known. Her passion and devotion to her causes is undeniable. But less well-known is her dramatic change of heart with respect to “righteous” warfare.
In the run-up to the Civil War, Howe was one of the most ardent and vocal abolitionists. In 1861, the first year of the war, the song “John Brown’s Body” (about the radical abolitionist who had raided Harper’s Ferry, MD in 1860) was quickly becoming a popular marching song for Union troops. But their commanders, while loving the catchy and inspiring tune, were less enthusiastic about the effect on morale of their troops singing about how “John Brown’s body lies a-moldering in the grave.”
Howe heard the soldiers singing this song as they marched by her home one day in November 1861, and her companion, a Christian pastor, the Reverend James Freeman Clarke, suggested to her that she write new lyrics for the song to make it more uplifting and compelling as a battle anthem. After a flash of late-night inspiration, Howe composed the text of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in order to inject her fervent abolitionist cause with a militant Christian spirituality about the righteous vengeance of God upon the wicked. Perhaps most compelling, certain stanzas of the Battle Hymn of the Republic are written to foster a sense of the soldiers’ cooperation with God in this holy cause. For instance:
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
This tune is thus reminiscent of a holy war paradigm, or a crusade, completely identifying the singers with God’s righteous cause. So sure was Howe that the Union cause was holy, justified, and righteous that her theology injects this passion and fervency directly into the hearts of those soldiers who would sing the inspirational tune.
But this was not the end of Howe’s writing career.
In the aftermath of the devastating American Civil War, in which well over 600,000 lives were lost, as well as the carnage of the Franco-Prussian War soon thereafter, Howe was horrified at the human toll these conflicts exacted. In the 1870’s, Howe began a one-woman peace crusade, having repudiated the militancy of her optimistic self-righteous “Battle Hymn” years. She saw the effect of actual human combat and came to see war as just as devastating, if not more so, than the other human social evils she had previously dedicated herself to fighting.
Particularly devastating to Howe were the cries of the grieving mothers she met. These women, who had lost their sons in the senseless carnage of the Civil War, were her inspiration. In 1872, Howe set about campaigning for a “Mother’s Day for Peace” as a way of raising awareness of the fact that every nameless soldier and civilian who had lost his or her life in the horrors of the war had left behind a weeping mother.
The day was, however, mainly intended as a call to unite women against war. It was due to her efforts that in 1873, women in 18 cities in America held a Mother’s Day for Peace gathering. See the original Mother’s Day Proclamation.
Howe rigorously championed the cause of declaring Mother’s Day as an official holiday. She held meetings every year at Boston on Mother’s Peace Day and took care to see that the day was well-observed. The celebrations died out when she turned her efforts to working for peace and women’s rights in other ways. Howe failed in her attempt to gain the formal recognition of a Mother’s Day for Peace. Her remarkable contribution in the establishment of Mother’s Day, however, remains in that her Mother’s Day dedicated to peace was the precursor to the modern Mother’s Day celebrations. To acknowledge Howe’s achievements, a stamp was issued in her honor in 1988.
More of our blog posts from Rob Arner:
See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.
compiled by Tony Masalonis from a discussion by (in alphabetical order) Tony Masalonis, Bill Samuel, Julia Smucker, Lisa Stiller, Richard Stith
Consistent Life Network blog posts express the opinion of the authors only. Although several of our Board members contributed to it, this post does not represent an official statement by Consistent Life as an organization.
On April 9, 2018, the Vatican released Pope Francis’ “apostolic exhortation” Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad). We aren’t a Catholic organization, but many CLN members are Catholic, and 1.2 billion other people are, so we pay attention when the Catholic Church speaks on our issues.
Gaudete is broad, containing meditations on popular Gospel passages and examples of how to live “holiness” in everyday life. But one part touches directly on what we as consistent-lifers hold dear: Francis refers to the “harmful ideological error” made by those who criticize other people’s work for justice, saying these critics are wrong to act as though:
the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend. Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred…. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection. ….
We often hear it said that, with respect to relativism and the flaws of our present world, the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue. Some Catholics consider it a secondary issue compared to the “grave” bioethical questions. That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian, for whom the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children.
These words have raised Catholic and non-Catholic eyebrows. In particular, much has been written about the apparent equating of abortion and immigration. Some commentators, including abortion defenders, praise Francis for coming out of what they consider the dark ages, while others sharply criticize him for failing to clearly restate Catholic teaching that abortion and euthanasia are intrinsic evils while other issues are matters of “prudential judgment.”
Even within CLN leadership, we have different takes on Gaudete’s treatment of life issues. In this post we cover some different perspectives within our group, acknowledging that as consistent-lifers, we firmly agree about protecting life and we (perhaps cautiously) celebrate the Catholic Church’s increasing support for the Consistent Life Ethic (CLE).
You Can’t Have Well-being without Being
Some of us acknowledge the validity of “traditional” pro-lifers’ concerns about Gaudete. For most of the endangered people the Pope mentions, their death isn’t the main concern. Rather, we’re concerned primarily about their misery. So Francis isn’t focusing on universal and consistent opposition to all lethal violence.
It’s wrong to ignore the plight of migrants. But it’s also wrong to put economic well-being on a par with life itself.
While none of us in the CLE movement think abortion is the only issue, it’s reasonable for some folks to consider it the key issue. It’s currently the largest example of mass killing in the world, and it involves families attacking their own members.
It’s like people in the U.S. South in the 1950s saying that overcoming segregation was overwhelmingly the most important issue. They’d be wrong to forget other issues, but their courage and stamina should be praised, rather than belittling them as merely concerned about race.
Although Francis clearly asserts the importance of defending the rights of unborn babies, a few sentences later he appears to mock the seriousness of “bioethical issues” by putting scare quotes around the word “grave.” This punctuation choice seems in tension with consistent-life concerns about direct killing.
Many inconsistent pro-lifers are pro-war and pro-death penalty, and closed-minded about migrants. They can and should be criticized for that. But they’re perfectly consistent about opposing the deliberate and culturally-approved killing of the innocent and helpless, shown by their strong, counter-cultural opposition to killing unborn (and newborn) infants and old/sick people – often at great cost to themselves.
“All Lives are Equally Sacred”
Some of us think the Pope is understandably frustrated at people waving the pro-life banner while showing little concern for social justice issues that impact human well-being. He’s also careful to note for the social justice crowd that the lives of the unborn are critically important.
The distinction made above between causing death and causing misery is much weaker than one might suppose. Many suffering from conditions like poverty, trafficking, and forced migration die because of them. Human dignity is a theme in Catholic Social Teaching (CST) going back to Rerum Novarum (1891, generally considered the founding document of modern CST), and CST holds that the right to life includes not only the right not to be directly killed, but also the right to a dignified life. Sanctity of life and quality of life cannot be neatly separated.
Whether or not one reads Gaudete as suggesting abortion opponents are indifferent to lives of the born, it’s evident that many people see abortion as the one issue. Many are Catholics.
Feticide isn’t the only case where a family destroys its own members: it’s the same with euthanasia. And abortion, as horrifying as it is, isn’t the only form of mass killing. War, genocide, and terrorism are excruciatingly common. Euthanasia and executions are rampant in some countries. All the forms of violence we oppose kill in great numbers. Most chilling, the potential death toll of world-wide war is over seven billion – the entire human race.
Consistent-Lifers United in Diversity
Does Gaudete reaffirm the CLE? Negate it? Both? Neither? Parts of the document seem at first to be a ringing affirmation – and then we notice two omissions: the death penalty and war (“peace” is mentioned many times, but in a general sense.) Instead of these forms of direct killing, the Pope includes those who aren’t targets of intentionally lethal violence. We must be equally concerned to protect their lives – but their lives aren’t quite as directly menaced.
It would have also been nice to see more about connections between life issues. Many anti-abortion people are so “single issue,” they don’t see connections between issues, especially poverty. If we address poverty, we begin to address abortion. The 1950s “single-issue” anti-segregationists, unlike many traditional pro-lifers, understood links between issues; they got that poverty was wrapped up in segregation, and that desegregation was a way out of poverty. Talking about abortion and poverty from this perspective might make the document more palatable, even convincing, to some traditional pro-lifers.
However, these deficiencies don’t make Gaudete a bad document. Every statement needn’t address every issue or every angle. Francis and other Popes have addressed other lethal violence well elsewhere. We ourselves don’t talk about every single life issue in everything we say. Popes too are free to focus on a few threatened populations at a time without losing their CLE credentials!
As consistent-lifers, we strive to speak to single-issue abortion opponents just like we should speak to single-issue death penalty opponents or single-issue pacifists: “Hey, folks, it’s really important what you’re doing, and we see why you focus on that. But here are important additional steps some feel called to take in the same direction. We hope you’ll join us, but if you’ve got your hands full already, at least let us know you’re with us.” We should not in any way put these people down, publicly or even in our own minds.
We have different opinions about how successfully Pope Francis has adopted this CLE attitude. In context, his critique of inconsistency shows he’s not denying the gravity of bioethical concerns – certainly not that of abortion, as he says explicitly. Rather, he’s saying they don’t override all other concerns about human life and dignity. It’s true, though, that those quotes around “grave” could potentially be misleading.
But we definitely all agree that building up our fellow workers for life and peace in a “cooperative spirit of peace, reconciliation, and respect in protecting the unprotected,” as our mission statement reads, is the way to go. And although some of us think Pope Francis missed a chance to holistically proclaim a consistent ethic of life in this new document, perhaps by more unequivocally declaring abortion’s gravity and by addressing war and executions, we continue to applaud his excellent overall track record of standing up for all life.
For more of our blog posts from different religions, see:
Atheism: The Vital Need for Diversity
Christianity: The Consistent Life Consensus in Ancient Christianity
See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.