The Adventures of Prolifers for Survival — Scorned by Mobilization for Survival
by Carol Crossed
Mobilization for Survival
Mobilization For Survival (MFS) began in the 1970s and was a diverse network of peace organizations, principally to address nuclear concerns.
Groups were encouraged to join by paying a modest membership fee and agreeing to four principles:
1. Disarming countries of nuclear weapons;
2. Banning nuclear power;
3. Ending the arms race; and
4. Meeting human needs.
MFS grew to roughly 350 member groups, and in the Spring of 1980 they ginned up for a large demonstration
Juli Loesch (now Julianne Wiley) called the MFS office to get information on how to join and participate in the demonstration. She spoke to a staff person at Mobilization for Survival named Stephen Zunes. Stephen was only 23 years old and a practicing Quaker when he began working at the national office of MFS in Philadelphia.
Stephen’s responsibilities centered around organizing Survival Summer. It was modeled after Mississippi Summer (1964) and Vietnam Summer (1967). This is the gathering Juli requested information about from the MFS office. She recalls being sent a “pretty substantial” packet of information.
However, Juli was shocked by its contents. It included a couple of leaflets by “abortion rights” organizations. Juli characterized this as opportunistically exploiting a peace march. How? By promoting that the Three Mile Island nuclear energy accident and its dangers of radiation created a need for lots more abortions, free and on demand, especially for women living downstream in the Susquehanna River watershed.
Juli’s sense of humorous outrage and her passion for justice, coupled with this absurd misuse of peace, were quickly aroused. First, Juli argued, “It was manifestly incoherent thinking that the nuclear industry was wickedly responsible for endangering or damaging babies, but that at the same time, our righteous response was: let’s be sure they all get aborted.”
Secondly, Juli was in the midst of trying to organize a bus full of pro-lifers to come and support this no-nukes demonstration. “They would surely back off if one of our demands was supposed to be ‘yes on abortion, and lots of it’.”
Juli phoned the MFS headquarters and carefully and rationally (and she admits perhaps a tad hotly) voiced her objection to this conflation of incompatible issues.
Juli recalls the conversation:
“OK,” said the person on the other end of the line, “And what did you say your name is?”
“And the group you represent is?”
Well, there wasn’t any group. It was just Juli. So on impulse she blurted, “We’re Pro-Lifers for Survival (PS).”
So Juli hung up, cooled down a few degrees, and then thought, “Oh, Lord. Now I’ve got to organize a group.”
According to Stephen, the MFS Staff was fully aware of the diversity of the member organizations. Some were front groups for organizations whose belief in the four principles were suspect. For instance, the Communist Party rationalized Soviet nuclear weapons and other military policies. There were Jewish organizations that supported Israeli occupation. “The MFS staff were willing to tolerate those differences, but there were some staff and local chapters that wouldn’t tolerate allowing anti-abortion groups.”
The Boston chapter of Mobilization for Survival sent out a letter against PS, saying that all prolifers were “racist, classist, misogynist anti-choice reactionaries.”
Juli was more than miffed. “They had Presbyterians and Physicians for Survival and Polyamorists and Pagans for Survival. But Pro-Lifers for Survival they could not tolerate?”
Strange, she remembers. “MFS was glowing with the urgency to create the broadest grassroots coalition ever for the Survival of the Planet — nothing could be more important than that! But now there’s certain people, potentially certain tens of millions of people, they’d really rather not have in their coalition, the exclusion of whom was more important than the survival of the planet?”
Stephen sought to mediate. He called Juli Loesch to clarify where PS was coming from. Though broadly sympathetic with the consistent pro-life position himself, he didn’t dare push that perspective, but simply called for tolerance and inclusivity within MFS.
The seven member staff were almost evenly divided on the question, with the director, a Lutheran Minister open to accepting PS: “I have an intolerance for intolerance” he said. Given the divisions, however, they would have likely brought it to the full Board, if it could get that far.
A couple local and regional chapters of MFS had already gotten wind of the controversy. Boston, the largest and most active, threatened to pull out of MFS altogether if PS joined. Other groups wrote letters calling for tolerance and diversity.
It was clear that PS’s application was threatening to split the organization. Stephen recalls that not wanting to cause damage to an important peace coalition, Juli, to her credit, withdrew the PS application to join MFS. “It was a classic example of intolerance of Progressives towards those with a consistent pro-life perspective.”
Thus did Pro-Lifers for Survival begin and expand. By 1987, it morphed into The Seamless Garment Network, later renamed Consistent Life. Stephen Zunes is co-editor of our book published by Praeger:
From Abortion to Assisted Suicide, the Death Penalty, and War
For more blog posts on the history of the consistent life ethic, see: