First Stirrings on Connecting the Life Issues
by Carol Crossed, Consistent Life Board member
In the 1970s and 1980s and in the midst of raising six children, I was immersed in several activist movements of the day. What began in world hunger and lobbying activity for Bread for the World became more sophisticated with the Nestle Boycott. Understanding the corporate role in world hunger catapulted me beyond soup kitchens and reading how much sugar was in breakfast cereals. Working through the United Nations, I better understood corporate behavior and how to monitor it. But everywhere I turned it was the capitalists (that would be me and the US) who not only marketed infant formula that caused infant deaths, but sold armaments that caused infant deaths. My passion slowly morphed into anti-militarism. And how could one hope to feed the world if 52% of the US discretionary budget went to feed the arms race?
While I tried desperately to fix this equation through rallies and protests and sit-ins, a woman whom I had never met was often quoted in opposition to whatever particular cause I was fighting for, or against. In newspaper articles or letters to the editor, she called me a Marxist or a socialist or a lesbian or a Wiccan. While I didn’t have problems with some of these labels, she clearly thought of them (and therefore of me) in a derogatory way. I decided to find her name and call her, and invite her to have coffee. I took tons of literature and was sure I had a convert on my hands. She couldn’t help but be impressed with how intelligent, peace-loving, and rational I was, right?
After 20 minutes into my spiel, using complex words like cross-fertilization of agri-business and uranium isotopes, Janet interrupted me. “Why don’t you ever say anything about the unborn child in abortion?” It stopped me. Dead in my tracks. I stuttered and said something about certainly not believing abortion was a good thing. “And besides, there are already enough people working on that issue.” She asked, ‘Why don’t you go with me to this right-to-life talk next week?”
I thought to myself that she is the last person I wanted to be seen with, but in the spirit of my exceptional conflict-resolution, peacemaking, tolerant, loving self, I choked out, “Well, ah, OK. But will you go with me to hear Fr. Dan Berrigan who is coming in September to speak about war?”
So we began going to events together. I learned from Dr. Mildred Jefferson of National Right to Life that there were over a million unborn lives aborted every year, not a million since Roe v. Wade, which is what I previously thought. Janet learned about the nuclear arms race and Mutually Assured Destruction. (Janet: “Oh my dear God! That will kill the mothers of the unborn babies too!”) I had a sign that had the Leviticus quote: Welcome the stranger and carried it around in my car. It worked well for Sanctuary rallies and at abortion clinics. And when NYS had hearings on reinstituting the death penalty, I asked Janet to go in my stead because I was doing community service for an abortion sit-in.
We formed a group in Rochester, NY, called Common Ground of Upstate New York. We brought together people by bringing together issues that sought to protect life either on the left or right of the political spectrum.
What I was experiencing in western New York was identical to what other peace and life activists were coming to grips with. One person was Juli Loesch Wiley, the founder of the precursor of Consistent Life Network: Pro-lifers for Survival.
Pro-lifers for Survival was founded in 1980, a cultural time ripe with escalating violence to the human person. The nuclear weapons build-up and the escalation of abortion made death endemic to our social fabric and less and less likely that nonviolence would be culturally accepted. If violence begets violence, it was no accident that Roe v Wade was decided toward the end of the Viet Nam War.
While some forms of killing were condemned by certain pockets of activists, it was common that some form of killing was accepted, even promoted, by the same group of aforementioned activists.
In 1976 or 1977 Juli Loesch (now Julianne Wiley) was involved in the anti-nuclear-weapons and anti-nuclear-power movements through the Pax Center in Erie PA. She thought when you think about nukes with any depth, you’re obliged to think about the next generation. Juli had done some reading and writing about radioisotopes and genotoxins as a danger to human embryos. This compelled her to think about nukes and intergenerational justice. It also compelled her to question the moral obtuseness of nuclear strategists like Herman Kahn who were willing to sacrifice vulnerable humans by the millions without even perceiving that “they are us,” that they are part of our human family and our human future.
Juli’s group had put out a No Nukes leaflet that looked a lot like a leaflet she picked up on the street from some anti-abortion women, even using the same quote from Deuteronomy, “Choose life that you and your descendants might live.” Since Juli was a feminist who believed, “Women united can never be defeated,” she thought, “Those women are potential anti-nuke allies. Why aren’t we united? I’ve got to find some way to talk to them.”
Somewhere over the next two years, Juli was able to meet prolife people, found them abundantly open to dialogue, and came to respect their sincere commitment to the next generation. She became convinced that pro-life and anti-nuke folks belonged together. “Same values. Same passions. Same sense of solidarity with the tenacity of life and the need to nonviolently accommodate all of us. It seemed like a natural to me.”
Pro-lifers for Survival was born, and later became the Seamless Garment Network, now re-named Consistent Life.
For more blog posts on the history of the consistent life ethic, see: